London Tech Week on sustainability’s say-do gap

The last 12 months have brought many challenges for Joe Public to contend with. We’ve had two years living through a global pandemic, are in the midst of a cost of living crisis and now the devastating effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Some experts have even reflected that this could in fact be our first true world war. Technology has meant that virtually everyone on the planet can either observe the fighting at a granular level, participate in some way or be affected economically — no matter where they live.

This is a lot for people to deal with and it’s no wonder that the average person just doesn’t have the mental capacity, strength or willingness right now to also deal with the impact of climate change on a global or personal level, or have the motivation – or money – needed to proactively adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.   

There is a stalemate surrounding whose responsibility it is to solve the climate crisis. People expect organisations to be better and offer better options when it comes to sustainability, whilst organisations are waiting for clear demand signals from consumers.

The sustainable consumer may never reach a mass market tipping point. It’s clear, that organisations can’t wait for demand from a demographic of so-called ‘sustainable consumers’. Big businesses are often forced to change, instead of getting on the front foot. Organisations need to take the lead in making sustainable living achievable for everyone, which is not an easy task.

The say-do gap

There’s also the ‘Say-do gap’. Many people say they want to contribute to making the world a more sustainable place and live more sustainably, but in reality, are unable to actually do anything about it.

Research commissioned by Accenture for its report Reality Check found that the gap is wider and more complex than we thought, which means that consumers may never be able to make the sustainable choice, especially when sustainability continues to accompany sacrifice for consumers.

Mass market sustainability is still a myth

People have good intentions – studies show at least 50% of people want to make more sustainable lifestyle choices – but only about 25% are reported to actually make those choices.

The study showed that many people are already doing their best. Add Covid into the mix and they don’t have the capacity to prioritise sustainability. This tells us that the ‘say-do gap’ is wider than we thought, and it’s not likely to close any time soon. So, the concept of a mass market of explicitly sustainable consumers is a myth.                      

Rethink behaviour change

It is up to the brands and businesses to help consumers to swap to sustainable alternatives. However, we must be realistic about changing behaviours. This is nothing new, companies have been changing and adapting consumer behaviour for many years. However, making the switch to a truly sustainable lifestyle for most consumers isn’t realistic.

There are several barriers including:

●      Price

●      Efficacy

●      Knowledge

●      Accessibility

●      Trust

The role of companies isn’t to only serve the minority of people, we need to nurture the majority of those on their journey toward an authentically sustainable lifestyle. The aim is to help everyone make incremental steps toward sustainable outcomes.

We must look at what matters most to people, and unfortunately, it is not currently sustainability. It’s not about persuading people to make sustainable choices – it’s about finding ways to fit sustainability in with their most immediate priorities. 

Companies need to remove sacrifice from the equation and be innovative in how they make sustainability a benefit to people. And it can be done. Recycling has now become a social norm that is habitual, and on-demand taxi companies can make the electric vehicle the default option.

Reduce the burden

There is often a lack of knowledge and complexity when it comes to sustainability and climate change. Brands need to help customers make quick and simple decisions, in the moment. Whilst clarity and a change in language will help to ensure customers feel knowledgeable without having to be a climate scientist.

People need a point of reference for what ‘good’ looks like. Without this, it’s hard to evaluate yourself against others or to understand the need to make a change. For example, fintech companies, such as Klarna, are helping customers to compare their carbon footprint to the average citizen.

Another tech company, Provenance, is enabling brands to communicate social and environmental impact with shoppers online and in-store in a credible way, connecting claims to supply chain data and third-party proof. Its software empowers shoppers to drive progress through purchase power, by exposing shoppers to the usually hidden environmental and social impact of the products they are purchasing.

Conclusion

Be it supporting an elderly mother who has lived alone for the best part of 18 months, or working as a delivery driver amid fuel shortages, we can’t expect people to have the capacity, time or resources to do any more – to be better.

And the context of Covid can’t be ignored. It’s certainly exacerbated the “I’m doing my best” feeling, plus family and health have shot to the top of our priorities.

The reality is that people in a whole host of different circumstances and contexts are overwhelmed. This further challenges the notion that demand for sustainable consumption will increase in time, but for now it must be businesses who drive change.

London Tech Week took place on the 13 -17 June 2022

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