It’s Time to Turn Sustainability Upside Down

A common question marketing professionals struggle with is how to get consumers to pay a premium price for sustainable products. The thinking goes that if a sustainable product is more costly to produce, it should command a premium price. This line of thought is further buttressed by consumers, who in surveys consistently state that they will pay more for a product that is sustainable. But what people say is not what they do and this infamous say/do gap makes marketers frustrated and the path towards a sustainable future murkier. 

If we are serious about helping people make sustainable choices, we need to approach things differently. Rather than thinking of sustainability as a premium product benefit, we should treat it as a hygiene factor. If it’s not there it will make people unhappy and when it’s there, it puts the product in the consideration set but it’s not the main motivator for purchase. So how can we get there? 

This is where behavioral science comes into play. Anchoring is a central behavioral science concept and if we look at how this applies to the marketing of sustainable products, we can see that they are mostly framed as the better option to the conventional non-sustainable counterparts. A plethora of claims and third party labels are used to indicate the sustainable qualities of the product in order to frame its superiority. So let’s consider turning things upside down and start making product claims and apply labeling to non-sustainable products for their toxicity, elevated carbon emissions, etc. This will help to make sustainable products become the conventional baseline and will alter the conversation where consumers now have to justify for themselves that they are buying products that are labeled non-organic, non-cyclable, non-renable, etc.

Watch Anders Bengtsson Ph.D. and Christian Niederauer Ph.D. full session on this topic at IIEX Europe: