Sweeten the sustainability pill
The following post is in partnership with Ethical Corporation in support of the upcoming Responsible Business Summit in New York. For an in depth look at the summit covering supply chain management and corporate/NGO partnerships visit this link.
Corporate efforts to encourage more sustainable consumer behaviour should concentrate on making it easy for their customers to change
In 2010, consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble set itself an ambitious goal: by 2020, 70 percent of washing machine loads worldwide will be done in cold water. P&G’s big rival, Unilever, adopted a similar target, though it was formulated in a slightly different way. It said it would encourage consumers “to wash at lower temperatures and at the correct dosage in 70 percent of machine washes by 2020.”
Meeting these goals would result in a huge sustainability payoff: energy savings and thus less burning of fossil fuels, and lower electricity bills for consumers. As the two companies own some of the world’s leading laundry brands – among them Ariel, Persil, Surf and Tide – the impact could be substantial.
But the goals have required a huge behavioural shift away from the notion that hot water is always better for getting clothes clean, and towards acceptance of a different way of doing things. The companies have exercised an extensive influence over consumer behaviour in order to effect the change.
This raises two questions:
How can such a shift be brought about, and why would the companies want to commit themselves to such an ambitious goal when consumers can be fickle and resistant to change? After all, companies can control their own operations, producing fully recyclable products for example, but should they be held responsible if the consumer chooses to dump that product somewhere where it will not be recycled?
In terms of the “how," Peter White, Director of Global Sustainability for P&G, says the company has experience from the Ariel “Turn to 30” campaign. This arose from a 2002 life-cycle carbon footprint assessment of P&G products that showed a “huge peak in the graph” related to the energy people use in their homes to wash their clothes, White says.
P&G calculated that by reducing the washing temperature to 30C, a per-wash energy saving of up to 60 percent could be achieved. The Turn to 30 campaign set out to persuade consumers, through print, television and other media channels, that not only would they benefit from energy savings, but they would not have to compromise on the cleanliness of their clothes, and in fact their clothes might last longer if not subjected to unnecessarily high temperatures.