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What prompts consumers to act sustainably?

Rob AiktenWhy is there disparity between what consumers say they would like to do and what they actually do when it comes to sustainable consumption?

While 30 percent want to act more sustainably when they are shopping, only three percent of people are putting their money where their mouth is and making purchasing decisions based on the sustainability of the product.

University of Otago Business School researchers have been looking at the barriers to sustainable behaviours, to find what role information plays in sustainable consumption.

Associate Professor Robert Aitken from the Marketing Department explains purchasing decisions are made on a number of considerations including price, quality, access and knowledge of issues.

“We focused on knowledge, looking at the distinction between abstract macro information that creates awareness, and more detailed micro information that helps consumers be confident they are choosing a product consistent with their values.”

The researchers looked at the link between labelling information and the intention to buy organic products.

A significant 70 percent of people made it clear that they wanted more product specific information at point-of-purchase to convert attitudes into actual purchase decisions.

Associate Professor Aitken said while an increasing number of consumers are aware they need to be more environmentally sustainable, it seemed they lack practical “action” information to make informed choices. This lack of such information is a barrier to consumers wishing to consume more sustainably.

“Consumers are questioning if some products are as environmentally sensitive as their producers portray them. They want genuine, credible information on the label; they don’t want a company to give them “greenwash” sustainability messages.

“People wanting to buy sustainably want to know about the ingredients, the packaging and what efforts the producers and suppliers have gone to make their product sustainable. They want to know if the product is sourced locally and ethically.

“They also want producers to actively help consumers to be more sustainable – such as what to do with the product packaging.

“Given the government is reluctant to regulate for more product information, there is an important element of corporate social responsibility for producers and suppliers to convey meaningful information. If consumers ask for information on the quality of their product, surely the company has a duty to provide it.”

He suggests companies need to consider a sustainability framework and incorporating sustainability as part of their overall service.