The UK’s (Secret) Plot to Encourage Consumers to Go Green

Back in July we came across the results of a study on consumer behavior as it related to “going green”. The research concluded that people are more motivated to make eco-friendly purchases based on perceptions about status – i.e. installing these solar panels are sure to make my neighbors envious – than they are by other factors, like cost-savings or more surprisingly perhaps, actually benefitting the environment.

Image Credit: Getty Images, Steve Roe /Flickr

Back in July we came across the results of a study on consumer behavior as it related to “going green”. The research concluded that people are more motivated to make eco-friendly purchases based on perceptions about status – i.e. installing these solar panels are sure to make my neighbors envious – than they are by other factors, like cost-savings or more surprisingly perhaps, actually benefitting the environment. On his blog, Richard Florida dubs this modern day version of “keeping up with the Joneses” the “Prius Effect” after Toyota’s popular hybrid vehicle. And while there most certainly is strange bit of psychology at play, it’s hard to argue with a bit of altruistic martyrdom meets juvenile competition when it’s for a good cause.

A fact that apparently hasn’t escaped the attention of lawmakers in the UK, who are employing some of this backwards rationale in an effort to get the green message out and more importantly change residents behavior. Following a survey that showed that an astounding 50 percent of respondents believe that science is still divided on whether or not humans actually contribute to climate change and 25 percent feel that their actions don’t make any difference, the government decided that it needed to alter its tactics.

After determining that broadcasting from the top down was having little to no impact on behavior, and in many cases, producing negative results – people have accused the government of concocting the climate crisis as way to justify tax increases – in an ironic twist, leaders behind the scenes have been forced to get a little underhanded in their approach. Which translates into a grassroots campaign that encourages families to go green, and in the process, stick it to their neighbors.

As the BBC explains:

Rather than simply beseeching us to “save the planet”, ministers hope they can convince us in other ways.

“Use non-environmental motivations,” their advisors recommend.

“Recognise the role of social norms, identity, and status for moving towards greater adoption of pro-environmental behaviours.”

In other words, appeal to the things that matter to people right now – their wallet and their self-esteem.

Along with this arm of the program, the government is also focusing attention of the money-saving aspects of the environmental movement, going so far as to identify seven “consumer types” based on their willingness to act responsibly. With that accomplished, they eventually hope to dictate the proper market conditions to further push this “forward thinking”. While it probably won’t resemble some Orwellian eco-dystopia where only energy-saving products are sold, it’s still too early to tell.

In either case, it’s hard to figure out how to feel about all of this. After all, isn’t a “secret” government plot for the greater good, still a “secret” government plot no matter how you spin it?

A short video on the topic can be viewed here.

BBC: Perfect Storm 2030: Public attitudes

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