With Melissa Chaudet, Sr Research Associate

As consumers, we don’t always act according to our values. This is especially true when it comes to protecting the planet. Organizations should not try to make us feel guilty for that: On the contrary, they should help us overcome our contradictions and empower us to consume more responsibly. My colleague, Melissa Chaudet, a senior research associate in our marketing and customer experience (CX) team, and I have just done some net new research on this green consumer paradox. See her thoughts in this cowritten blog.

A Tale Of Coffee Cups

(Photo by Crystal Shaw on Unsplash)

British people love a takeaway coffee. And they’ve absolutely mastered the art of weaving around the busy streets of London without dropping a single dash of it out of their disposable cups. But British coffee drinkers are also becoming more sensitive to the impact of their consumption on the environment. A report from Mintel mentions that as many as 82% of customers agree that more people should use reusable coffee cups, and 57% agree that more coffee shops should charge customers a fee for using disposable coffee cups. In response to this rising sustainability demand, a few coffee chains in the UK now offer financial incentives to customers who bring their own reusable cups.

I really wanted to check how these consumers’ expectations, and the coffee brands’ new incentives, impacted the use of disposable cups. So yesterday, I sat down for one hour in my local coffee shop in South London and counted the number of customers who brought their own reusable cups: 8%, 10 out of 109 customers, provided a reusable cup at the counter. I was slightly disappointed but not really surprised. British coffee lovers experience a gap between their beliefs and their actual behaviors. But don’t worry, we all do.

When You Talk About Sustainable Consumption, Cognitive Dissonance Is Always Hiding In The Corner

Every time your attitudes or beliefs are not consistent with your behavior, you are faced with a slight mental discomfort, which psychologist Leon Festinger named “cognitive dissonance.”

In the world of sustainable consumption, cognitive dissonance ranks supreme. In one of our latest survey results, we found that between 60% and 74% of Europe-5 online adults are concerned about the impact of climate change on society, but only 39% to 50% agree that concerns about climate change affect their purchase decisions.

Consumers constantly trade sustainability for price, speed, performance, or convenience; even the so-called “green consumers” do. Let’s take a more concrete example from our survey data that illustrates the gap between attitude and behavior: 31% of UK online adults who agree that concerns about climate change affect their purchase decisions say they use on-demand food delivery services at least weekly. When asking the reasons why they recently used this service, 22% said it was more convenient than other options.

Consumers’ Cognitive Dissonance Is A Risk As Much As An Opportunity For Businesses

Overlooking customers’ cognitive dissonance when building your green marketing mix risks impacting sales conversion and damaging brand loyalty and trust. Indeed, this uncomfortable tension that we’ve been talking about — cognitive dissonance — prompts a variety of negative emotions: frustration, sadness, shame, and anxiety, among others. Human beings strive for internal consistency and will try to remove — or at least reduce — their cognitive dissonance and the negative emotions that go along with it. Going back to the food delivery service example, customers could:

  • Reinforce their conflicted belief. “I’ve worked so hard today and I am so tired. I deserve to treat myself with a delicious pizza delivered at my doorstep.”
  • Adapt or change their behavior. “I’ll call the restaurant to check if I can collect the food. That will be a great opportunity to get these legs moving after a long day working from home.”

But cognitive dissonance does not only mean bad news. When reduced or resolved, it can also increase sales conversion, charge brand energy, and strengthen loyalty. As an example, healthy nutrition e-commerce company Nuzest has seen a 22% cart conversion increase since it installed EcoCart, an e-commerce plug-in for online stores that allows customers to offset their carbon footprint at checkout.

In our latest report, The Green Consumer Paradox, Thomas and I identify the five most common barriers to sustainable purchasing that generate cognitive dissonance. We also unveil how different businesses removed — or at least weakened — these barriers to help their customers act on their sustainable commitments or intents.

Have more questions? Request an inquiry here, and check out our continued and expanding sustainability research to understand more about the trends of sustainability consumption.