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Rendering sustainable consumption behaviour more sustainable: psychological tools for marketing prosocial commitment
Sustainable consumption patterns in individual consumers are in society′s best interest. But for most people in most circumstances, sustainability will conflict with self-interest. Unsustainable products are cheaper, unsustainable means of disposal are less effortful, driving ones′ own car is more comfortable than using public transportation, etc... Each of these choices confronts the individual consumer with a social dilemma: the choice between an easy solution that hurts society at large, and a sustainable alternative for which the individual pays a price. Government (at different levels) acts as a social marketer, assuming the difficult responsibility of promoting individual consumer choices in favor of the collective (sustainable) interest, and against one′s personal interest. To promote sustainable consumption the government has two kinds of marketing instruments at its disposal: communication instruments and instruments for direct behavior al control. With the second instrument, consisting of fines and taxes, the government can achieve a change in behavior without achieving a change in mentality. However, this may cause long-term problems, because mandatory participation to sustainable consumption requires airtight control on citizens′ behavior, which may be unaffordable over time. Moreover, in a democratic order, government policy needs the support of a majority of the population (which is often not the case). Therefore, the government complements carrot and stick approaches with communication-based social marketing, which strives to achieve a real change in mentality of citizens (which is also an explicit objective of Agenda 21 of the United Nations, 1992). To achieve a change in mentality, authorities may use classic advertising channels, but may also use messages that can be posted on product packaging, on garbage containers, etc. These messages should make people more aware of the reasons to make sustainable choices. We have our doubts whether simply providing people with information on reasons to choose the sustainable alternative, will have the desired results. Reflecting about behavioral options activates not only the pros of this option but also the cons, and consequently also the pros and the cons of alternative, non-sustainable behavioral options. The communication strategy may be effective for radical decisions (e.g., deciding to use alternative energy to heat the house). However, we suppose that this strategy may be very ineffective for simple waste sorting behaviors, which have to be carried out several times per day and which occur in a context of time pressure and mental load. Consumers and citizens probably will not extensively reflect on these decisions, and if they think about them they will probably come up with counterarguments very easily. The self-interest (e.g., saving money) will always be more salient than the collective sustainable interest. In this project, we investigated the potential of another type of persuasion strategies for. This thought content may refer, for example, tolatent motives to behave sustainable, or to an inconsistency between one′s goals and actions, or to one′s self-perception as a pro-sustainable citizen. Activating these contents increases their accessibility and salience and makes them more probable to influence speedy and mostly subconscious behavioral decision processes, of which we carry out hundreds a day. We investigated how several techniques, using this principle, may be applied as apromotional tool to increase sustainable decision making. The government′s responsibility is to both instigate sustainable behavior, and to forster a change in mentality that will make sustainable behavior self-sustainable. We investigate how these two kinds of instruments can be optimally used and combined. We cover two specific research questions: (1) Does the government have to attempt to convince, or is it better to use more subtle means to activate existing pro-sustainable motivations, and (2) if direct behavioral control is necessary, how does one go from mere behavioral change to a true change in mentality and behavioral persistence in the long run? In the next part of the report we will summarize our findings and report on the implication for policy. the promotion of sustainable decision making. These strategies use a more subtle approach. They do not involve coercion, nor do they provoke active thinking about the pros and cons of behavioral alternatives. They simply use situational cues which activate certain thought contents.
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