I recently saw a photograph of a polar bear clinging to a piece of melting ice being used to illustrate the impending threat of climate change. It’s a heart-tugging image but did it make me redouble my efforts to recycle that day? I’m afraid not. Like most people, I worry about global warming but often struggle to make the connection with my day-to-day life.
At Tesco, we are working hard to help our customers take small steps towards living more environmentally friendly lives. Rather than preying on feelings of fear or guilt to motivate people to change their habits, we are finding simple ways to show people that greener living can be easy and cost-effective.
There is strong sentiment in the green lobby that, where the environment is concerned, a hard line is required: hike the taxes on flying; ban 4x4s; bring in new regulations that banish certain products from the market.
At Tesco, we know that if we offer our customers a hair shirt, they are unlikely to wear it willingly. So we are taking a different tack by making going green something that they will find simple – and possibly even enjoyable. We want them to feel good about their decision to save energy or reduce their waste, rather than feeling that they are being punished, or forced to give something up.
Our efforts on lightbulbs are a good example. The campaigners wanted us to remove standard lightbulbs from our shelves and force people to buy the energy-saving alternatives. But we think we have a better way of changing people’s shopping habits.
As part of the “Together” climate change campaign, we have communicated how energy-saving lightbulbs help you to do your bit for climate change, while saving you money on your energy bills. If shrinking your carbon footprint does not excite you, the idea of shaving more than £55 off your annual electricity bills just might.
We have also made it as easy as possible for consumers to find the bulbs. We have doubled the shelf space devoted to them, made them a core product in our smaller Express stores, and then clearly signposted them with point-of-sale.
The price has been key too. We decided to permanently halve the cost of energy-efficient lightbulbs last January and, since then, have run a number of promotions to make them even cheaper. Last week we were selling them for just 1p each.
The response from our customers has been fantastic and sales have trebled as a result, cannibalising sales from their inefficient cousins at an ever-increasing rate. Our customers tell us they feel good about leading a more environmentally friendly life, which means that this small step may lead them to consider making other, larger changes to their lifestyle.
We have witnessed similar success with our efforts to reduce the use of disposable carrier bags. By using Clubcard points as an incentive and sending out a clear message that reusing carrier bags is a positive thing to do for the planet, millions of people have changed their habits. Since we launched our campaign in August 2006, we have prevented more than 1 billion bags from winding up in landfill. No hair shirt required. Better still, consumers have happily and willingly adopted this green habit.
When doing a weekly shop, our customers make many decisions and choices about how they want to live their lives – what to eat and drink, what to wear, what to use to wash their clothes. While each individual decision may be relatively small, the total impact of these choices is considerable.
A shortage of information is an often-cited barrier to greener living, so we are keen to put a carbon label on products. Just as we did with nutritional labelling, we want to empower our customers to make informed decisions about what they buy.
Retailers are in a unique position. By guiding our customers to select environmentally friendly products, we are helping to transform green consumption from a fringe effort into a mass-market proposition.
In doing so, we – and businesses like ours – are helping to change attitudes, alter lifestyles, and bring about a genuinely low-carbon economy. Our collective efforts will save consumers money, cut carbon emissions and may even rescue the polar bear.
Richard Brasher is commercial and trading director at Tesco