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Promoting sustainable behaviours

2 minute read • Part of the Human Signals series

Design principles and frameworks to shift consumer behaviour

What stops consumers from being more sustainable?

This is a pivotal year for sustainability. The G7 have made stronger commitments to protect the environment, more firms are publishing their net-zero carbon targets, and preparations are underway for the COP26 climate conference in November.

Businesses are increasingly expected to take a lead role in promoting sustainable alternatives and driving the sustainability agenda, rather than relying on their customers to signal the desire for them to do so.

‘It should not be my responsibility to look for this [sustainability] information. A company should be transparent about every part of their production processes.’

It has been an expectation that consumers would choose sustainable alternatives if presented with them, and if they didn’t it was because it wasn’t something they valued. However, statistic after statistic shows that, whilst consumers do want sustainable alternatives, something gets in their way of acting on those intentions. We call this the intention-action gap.

To help our clients and the business community, we explored how and when consumers act sustainably and what affects the choices they make.

We have drawn on the growing wealth of research into sustainable behaviours, designed several approaches to bridge this intention-action gap, and highlighted themes which organisations will need to consider when engaging their consumers.

The research focussed on the most impactful aspects of household activities and spending, and the associated sustainability impact — clothing, toiletries, food, technology, energy, travel, and financial services.

Using a combination of research methods, including detailed diary studies, we concluded with 5 broad themes: information and education, intention-action gap, authenticity gap, burden of responsibility, re-imagining the future.

We showcase a range of practical frameworks and techniques to help you when designing sustainable solutions. We have developed a set of ‘mindsets’ that outline how consumers think about sustainability and a set of design principles and frameworks to help shift consumer behaviour to choose sustainable alternatives.

This research comes from EY Seren and EY’s commitment to build a better working world, by thinking beyond short-term returns and creating long-term value.

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