The Next Sustainable Consumer Report cuts through the fog of uncertainty around sustainability and reveals a journey we’re on, as consumers and brands. It clarifies sustainability with toolkits to thrive in this time of rapid transformation, highlighting areas where brands can win, directions for success, and consumer profiles we should be talking to now, and how to speak with them.
Words FREDRIK EKSTRÖM
The Next Sustainable Consumer Report is released in a partnership with Above The Clouds, a strategic brand agency operated by Fredrik Ekström, Editor-at-Large of sustainability and branding at Scandinavian MIND. This is article 1 of 3 in the series. Sign up for our newsletter to get instant access to the full report.
Sustainability Zombies, Eco Swingers and Anxious Doers
An important tool for fully understanding the report is to be familiar with our sustainable consumer profiles, how they, do or do not, incorporate sustainability issues into their lifestyle pattern and what drivers get triggered in sustainability communication and messaging. There will be future articles with in-depth presentations about the profiles in the article series about the NXT Sustainable Consumer, but to get started, here is a quick introduction.
During the crisis, the shift towards making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases has accelerated, and consumers have made a green leap as individuals to adopt the ideas of sustainability. The Swedish consumers are moving from (7%) Sustainability Zombies and (13%) Spectators to (37%) Eco-Swingers, (36%) Anxious Doers and (7%) Dedicated Pioneers. This movement means that 8 out of 10 consumers identifies themselves as being a person where sustainability is part of their self-conception and in different ways trigger positively on sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability and Status Anxiety
However, during the crisis, we as consumers have faced an overload of sustainability communication from brands, creating a world where sustainability as a trustworthy one-solution label has been co-opted. Marketers and brand strategists use it to push everything from packaging to social media campaigns while greenwashing brands still operate unchecked. In short, the term “Sustainability” has lost a bit of its glory purpose while the consumer feels anxious, and this anxiety is not only for the wellbeing of the planet. The increased communication creates a new form of sustainability status symbols where knowledge about the environment give higher status and impress peers. While making the wrong choices creates a risk for losing face within peers and therefore creates a form of sustainability status anxiety, especially among Gen-Z and specific consumer profiles.
“We as humans, are transforming from Sustainability-Zombies into Eco-Swingers and Anxious Doers, and we balance this transformation on equal parts hope and anxiety”
The word “status” affects people, it makes us feel a little embarrassed and usually nothing we want to talk about. At the same time, one cannot help but be fascinated by the power behind it. So, what is it that really gives status when 8 out of 10 Swedish consumers identify themselves as being a person that connects their self-conception with sustainability?
There is a sloppy casual use of the word status where expensive objects usually are the way to gain status and consequently status would only be about surface and monetary success. But nothing can be more wrong especially among Gen-Z where 8 of 10 states that they get impressed by a person that teaches them something new and exciting about sustainability and 1 in 5 gets physically attracted by a person that lives a seemingly sustainable and healthy life.
The longing to learn more about sustainability places sustainability knowledge as a new status symbol. But with these new patterns and the rapid transformation within sustainability that is taking place in society, a new uncertainty also arises. 7 of 10 Gen-Z think that their friends will look at them negatively if they don’t make environmentally conscious choices in their consumption and almost 9 of 10 Gen-Z feel that their environmental choices disappear in a black hole, that does not create any major impact, neither for the better nor for the worse.
The fear of making the wrong environmentally conscious choices, in connection with the feeling of being impressed and attracted by those with sustainability knowledge. Can grow a worry, so destructive that we feel in danger of failing to conform to the ideals of success laid down by our peers and society and that we may as a result be stripped of status. This can ultimately act as both a driver and a barrier for consumers when adapting to a more sustainable lifestyle.
“We will probably see a future — Tinder effect — around sustainability, since 1 in 5 of the eco-sexual Gen-Z’s feels attracted to another person if they seemingly live a sustainable and healthy life”
The consumer will in the end demand more than only information about environmental benefits around products and brands to transform into sustainable lifestyles. They also need help to build their self-image with values, results, and stories while conducting their sustainable transformation. They want bragging rights and a proof of concept that they are doing the right thing and won’t be judged by peers.
A step-by-step self-help starter guide
If you feel uncertain when reading this about how you will be perceived while transforming into a sustainable lifestyle, then you might suffer from mild-to-moderate symptoms of sustainability status anxiety. This anxiety is just as important to address whether you represent yourself or build a brand strategy around sustainability, because people are brands and brands are viewed upon as people by the consumer.
This is a self-help starter guide for people and brands, with mild-to-moderate symptoms of sustainability status anxiety. It acts to start your transformation into a sustainable lifestyle and yet impress the most on the society and peers around you while transforming into a better you.
This top list of actions is what the consumers state as characteristics of a friend that IMPRESS THEM THE MOST. If we are uncertain where to start or afraid of losing status. These actions give a good direction of how to start your sustainability journey and impress your friends while transforming into a better more sustainable you.
The Peer-to-peer Top list to impress the most
(1) They have stopped consuming unnecessary products. (2) They have changed his/her life to become more sustainable in general. (3) They have knowledge about the latest research on the environment and climate. (4) They have knowledge and understand new technologies for sustainable development. (5) They have created a product / project / company that does something good for the environment. (6) They have invested in projects / companies that do something good for the environment.
DON’T TALK ABOUT THIS
This list of words is what the consumers state as words they ARE THE MOST TIRED OF seeing or hearing, where climate neutral is the worst, but both sustainable and sustainability is in the top five of most tiering words. Use this list as a “shit-list” to stay away from, when socialising or communicating about sustainability.
The Sustainability Communication Shit-list, words to avoid.