Posted by White Rhino

It’s a fundamental human behavior.  

People say one thing and do another. 

In sustainability, it’s a top point of discussion. 65% of consumers say they want buy from brands that support sustainability, but only 26% actually do. So, what gives? 

I recently discussed how one key to closing this gap is to design convenient choices into our products and services – making it easy for consumers to take the actions they want to take. 

The less talked about strategy is that we need to stop talking about sustainability.


Sustainability as a goal is a non-starter.

As you read in my last blog, the unattainable perfection of embodying sustainability creates cognitive dissonance where we choose not to do anything – all to avoid the negative feeling that we’re not doing enough. It’s a big reason why so many people rationalize that living more sustainably isn’t important if life is finite anyway. What’s in it for them other than to continue feeling inadequate?

The more we push sustainability as the goal, the more cognitive dissonance we create – which, ultimately, pushes the consumer further away from action. When less than 10% of human behavior is driven by cognitive choices,  the greater opportunity for impact is on the emotional side. 

Thrifting is a great analogy for this. It’s a huge trend with Gen Z and, on its surface, feels like a huge trend in sustainability. But most people don’t participate in the thrift economy because of the environment. Many are looking for novelty in the form of owning something unique or affording the ability to wear clothing a few times before putting them back into the system in exchange for the next new item. 

Another great example comes from an experiment in supermarket design. When Krukow, a behavioral design company based in Denmark, wanted consumers to make healthier and more sustainable food choices, they didn't put up a bunch of educational posters. After recognizing that consumers shop based on meal-planning, they redesigned the flow of the store to match. Rather than a separate meat section and vegetable section, they created a burger area where they featured your traditional burger fixings, complementary vegetables, as well as a recipe for veggie burgers – with the ingredients there and ready to go.

So, yes, closing the “say-do” gap in sustainability is about creating more sustainable choices for consumers. But it also requires a reframing. As companies weave sustainability into their brand purpose and strategy, they need to take time to map the underlying value systems that drive consumers. 

Specifically, the values that have nothing to do with sustainability. 

Topics: Behavior Change, Sustainability