Watching the news, it’s easy to forget that in many ways we live in enlightened times. Increasingly, we do actually care about the future of our planet and our collective role in its preservation.
Many brand owners and communications agencies have cottoned on to this fact and, in some instances, are working to further these critical goals. By extension, brands expect parents to be more environmentally conscious, more committed to cleaner living and to abide by a strong sense of purpose.
All good things, of course. But does branding that assumes such virtue alienate the rest of us mere mortals?
The truth is, often parents are as driven by the financial incentives of living sustainably as they are the ethical ones. And that’s okay. Indeed, it’s understandable that parents would want to save on their electricity and water bills in the management of a household budget, and that such considerations take precedence over issues that, however important, can feel abstract next to feeding and clothing one’s nearest and dearest.
Branding in such a way that forgets to take these families with them is guilty of more than just causing compassion fatigue, it’s setting up a false dichotomy for parents that makes them choose: your kids or the long-term sustainability of planet earth.
How much truth is there in the assumption that parents make more environmentally friendly decisions based on their unyielding moral compasses? Well, Siegel+Gale conducted a survey to find out, comparing environmental consciousness amongst different demographic audiences, with the aim of bringing clarity to the assumptions brands make.
Parents are further down the journey of behavioural change
Siegel+Gale found that parents indeed do more to reduce their carbon footprint than others (an average of 41% taking steps across 16 different actions vs 34% for those without children). The green(er) activities that parents are more likely to engage in are ones that reduce household impact whilst also reducing expenses – conserving less water, energy and heat.
So, the question remains – are parents motivated by the long-term benefits of being environmentally conscious or by the more immediate advantages, such as saving money? To understand this, we need more deeply at the attitudes underpinning parents’ behavioural change.
Parents’ movement along the journey contains roadblocks
44% of respondents with children consider it important to live a fossil fuel-free lifestyle, significantly below the 62% of those without kids. Furthermore, when asked how difficult they would expect it to be to commit to this future lifestyle, 64% of parents stated it would be difficult, compared to 56% of those without children.
In reality, those who are not parents say they find it easier to reduce their carbon footprint than parents do. Firstly, they are starting from a lower base – with less household waste, lower energy consumption and higher public transport use. Secondly, they are more likely to prioritise climate change over other considerations.
Parents’ early adoption of green behaviours, such as conserving energy or water, appears to be more about managing household spending as distinct from ensuring their children inherit a healthy planet. Brand owners, especially those offering more sustainable or lower carbon alternatives, must avoid the trap of losing sight of the broader pressures affecting parents – parents need practical help and immediate benefits.
Avoiding the Trap
Our research shows that there are three ways to influence parents’ decisions surrounding low carbon products or environmentally conscious behaviour change:
Front and centre of every parent’s mind is their family’s comfort and safety. They acknowledge that there are clear environmental advantages to living a greener lifestyle, but they are more motivated by immediate rather than deferred benefits, so focus on these.
Brands must engage on a personal level and not take affinity with environmental issues for granted. When advocating to parents about the low carbon or sustainable alternatives to traditional products, deploy emotional messaging focusing on how these alternatives can benefit them and their family in their day-to-day lives, for example by bringing them freedom and the chance to aid their families.
Parents see the transition to low carbon alternatives as likely to be more difficult than non-parents and may also have less time to educate themselves about either the process or new innovations. They need to be informed about the benefits in the clearest way possible, and functional barriers must be overcome to deliver a clear and simple experience.
When advocating to parents about sustainable alternatives, the goal should be to simplify messaging into a narrative that both educates and engages by promoting a ‘win-win’ opportunity. This means balancing emotional benefits in the here and now, such as everyday freedom for the family, with longer-term environmental benefits.
This final point goes to the heart of the matter: there is a way of bringing everyone on the journey towards more sustainable living, but brands should know that consumers motivations for taking this journey will differ. You can save the world and save money – the two need not be mutually exclusive.
- Siegel+Gale is a brand strategy, design and experience firm headquartered in New York, US.