How can we make it easy to be climate-friendly?
By Lindsey Higgins
On the 21st of September, on a sunny day in Malmö, more than 500 scientists, investors, and entrepreneurs came together to talk about climate solutions. It was the first year of The Drop Conference. One Ripple (deep discussion group) hosted by Cecile Bussy (Content and Communications at Sweep) and Lindsey Higgins (Climate Insights at Pale blue dot) focused on how to win hearts and minds for climate solutions. They concentrated on one key question: how can we encourage individuals to make planet-positive decisions?
From left to right: Co-host Cecile Bussy (Sweep), Till Quack (Zerofy), Olivia Ahn (PLANERA), Caroline Reid (Oatly), and Gustav Osberg (Lund University).
The IPCC has been publishing reports on the state of climate change since 1990, and this year was the first time that a chapter on the demand side of climate mitigation was included. According to this new chapter, strategies focused on demand and social aspects of climate mitigation have the potential to reduce emissions by 40 to 70% across all sectors, but motivation and capacity for change at the household level are generally low.
From changing our diets to swapping trains for planes, there are many ways people can minimise their contributions to climate change. Unfortunately, changing behaviour is more complex than presenting individuals with the facts about climate change. Encouraging people to change their behaviour can be an uphill battle between lifestyle preferences, eco-anxiety, and even climate change denial. We are predisposed to focus on short-term benefits, so today's solutions must be more than just better for the climate - products and platforms need to be better/faster/easier than the alternatives.
So how do we ensure that everyone is making better decisions for the climate? How do we reach people who are too overwhelmed with the options, maybe don’t really care about the environment, or in the most extreme case, deny that climate change even exists? This is what we asked ourselves going into the Behaviour Change Ripple at The Drop.
Lesson 1: Build on values
Our session kicked off with Gustav Osberg, who introduced the inner dimension of sustainability. Gustav works as a research assistant at Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS) and the Contemplative Sustainable Futures Program. He outlined the inner dimension as that which includes our individual and collective mindsets, values, beliefs and associated inner capacities. At LUCSUS, Gustav and his colleagues' research focuses on empowering people to be agents of change rather than objects to be changed through the Mind4Change and TransVision projects. His work asks questions such as: how can we nurture compassion for the planet? And how can we best address the underlying causes of our unsustainable lifestyles? Gustav says the answer lies in our values:
“To change unsustainable systems and cultures, we must also change the individual and collective values they are built on. Our economy is based on competition and materialism, creating a disconnect to ourselves, the people around us, and nature. Overcoming this requires nurturing our intrinsic values and capacities to care, collaborate and empathise. Practices such as meditation, journaling or nature quests are examples of how to support this, but there are many more.”
Lesson 2: Make climate the mission, not the message
Oatly is well-known for enabling a plant-based revolution. They have created a product that is better for the environment and amassed an almost cult-like following around it. But how did they do it? Part of the strategy was to go directly to their target market – coffee lovers. Caroline Reid, Oatly’s Sustainability Director EMEA, shared that by approaching baristas with a product made specifically for them (Oatly Barista Edition), Oatly quickly established itself as the best alternative to dairy and gradually built up buzz and demand from the ground up.
When it comes to plant-based foods, market research has shown that sustainability is a perk rather than a selling point. Consumers tend to care more about personal benefits - why is this a good product for me - and less about planetary ones. By creating a brand that was tasty, appealing and entertaining for everyone, not just climate-minded people, the market was wide open to them. In fact, Oatly was so successful at establishing itself as “milk but made for humans” that the Swedish dairy industry actually sued them for making dairy products look bad.
Lesson 3: Listen to your audience
PLANERA makes a menstrual pad that is meant to be flushed. This is a big deal when about 30% of period products in the UK are flushed when they shouldn’t be–that’s nearly 5 million pads, tampons, and liners going down the drain every single day. Flushing conventional period products leads to blockages in pipes and plastic pollution in waterways, but PLANERA breaks down into sugars and starches when it is flushed, leaving not a single microplastic to be seen. An environmental feat - yet not one that resonated with customers.
When our speaker Olivia Ahn and her team started listening to their community of early adopters, they found that the environmental benefits of the pads were secondary to comfort and convenience. They learnt that people wanted to be sustainable, as long as it didn’t interfere with their day-to-day lives or comfort too much. So, what really worked for PLANERA was focusing on the pain points that their pads were solving. By providing a comfortable and convenient product, which also happens to be environmentally friendly, PLANERA is shaking up the market and driving consumers towards making a more sustainable choice.
Lesson 4: Remember, people want to change
Till Quack founded the zero-carbon lifestyle app Zerofy to help people measure and reduce their household carbon emissions. To find out how to best approach this issue, Till and his team surveyed 400 potential customers to find out how willing they were to reduce their carbon footprint, and they discovered that people wanted to act. Almost 90% of survey respondents said they want to reduce their climate impact, but they don’t know where to start or how to have the most impact. The survey also revealed that 35% do not want to change their lifestyle too much to make it happen.
So, Zerofy set out to make climate action easy for people. The effort required to measure household emissions was made as low as possible with automated tracking based on artificial intelligence and internet-connected devices. Zerofy combines this with action items and challenges to make the behaviour change process more appealing and exciting.
Making better consumption choices is only part of the puzzle of addressing climate change, but individual choices can also have the power to influence structural changes over time. Behaviour is contagious, so there is power in enabling and encouraging individuals to contribute. Call it FOMO if you like, but climate action can have cascading effects–like one person in a neighbourhood installing rooftop solar inspiring their other neighbours to follow suit.
A little nudge in the right direction can go a long way. As anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."