5 ideas on how to promote a sustainable lifestyle
Everyone has a story
I’d like to share with you, a memory from when I was around eight years old. It was summer and my family was entertaining guests one evening. The house was completely packed with people. Over dinner, one of my mother’s good friend turned to me and asked “But Zeynep, are you not going to say a word all night?”. I was a bit surprised at the question, I didn’t think anyone would take much notice of me in the background, soaking up all the talks and laughs. I fumbled to find a good response, and eventually blurted “Auntie, I’d rather listen to your cool stories”. I got a real smile back, one that stretched all the way to the eyes.
The reason this memory means a lot to me, is because this good friend of my mum’s is someone who still exists in my life today. She’s older, a widow since years back, and is unfortunately struggling with health issues. Yet she’s an amazing storyteller. Whenever I meet her at a family gathering or during the holidays, I enjoy sitting close by and listening to her as she tells her life stories, even though I’ve heard most of them many times over. The truth is, life stories carry a lot in them; memories, dreams, sadness, joy, fears and hope. And it’s by telling them, or listening to them, that we can begin to understand the individuals behind them, and build our empathy for what they’ve been through in life. Being invited to listen to someone sharing their life stories is, to me, the most amazing gift anyone can give.
It’s difficult to discern any life stories from a quantitative study, because you don’t have the luxury of spending time with individuals and truly listen to them. Yet, we recently wanted to understand the consumer understanding, attitudes, behaviors and expectations around the topic of sustainability. For something as important as the future of our natural environment, it’s worth taking the time to truly understand the quantitative insights we have, enough to see through the numbers and see the individuals behind them. Because technology innovations, no matter their purpose, should be designed with a consideration for those lives it will impact.
Read the full ConsumerLab report: ‘Consumers, sustainability and ICT'.
Behind every number is a person
As global temperatures rise, so do the increased frequency and extent of natural disasters, and the impacts are tragic; devastation and the loss of both human and wildlife habitats around the globe. In line with the IPCC findings, governments as well as businesses need to mitigate the environmental impact by trying to keep the global average temperature increase below 1.5-degree by 2030. The concern for the environment also engages millions of consumers across ages, all over the globe, urging everyone to help combat these critical environmental challenges. While these initiatives are well and good, research suggests that we actually need to exponentially increase our efforts in order to reach this target, meaning that stronger measures are needed.
In our recent study, we set out to explore the consumer understanding, attitudes and behaviors around climate. We also wanted to understand what role ICT could have in aiding consumers in living more sustainable lifestyles, while also contributing to national and global initiatives on climate action. Gathering insights from 12,000 respondents across 12 countries and representing around 900 million consumers, we had gathered an incredible amount of data and insights. What we initially found was that 46 percent of consumers see technology innovations as crucial in solving future environmental challenges, while 36 percent express an interest in having their ICT devices give them recommendations on how to live in a more environmentally friendly way. But as you see, our data comes in numbers; averages and percentages deriving from complex combinations of parameters.
Yet, behind every number there is a person. For our purpose of learning something meaningful about how to support different types of consumers, we created six consumer segments that are unique in their attitudes, habits, understandings and expectations around climate and personal climate action. Their proficiency, as well as interest in ICT technology in itself also plays a factor in how these segments have been created. Given that different consumers have different circumstances in life, different barriers to action, different motivations to action, as well as different interest levels in technology itself, it’s worth making these explicit, so we can begin to explore ways in which consumers could be supported in making sustainable lifestyle changes.
That’s why I’d like to introduce you to five different people, and therefore, five different ideas on how you can innovate to support each of them to lead a sustainable lifestyle. And by supporting, I mean to design technology solutions that will enhance, according to them, important aspects of their lives. In addition, they’d be able to do good for the environment with these adjustments. Win-win, wouldn’t you say? Let’s start.
1. The value of things
We wanted to explore the ‘why’ side of things, even though I’d ideally like to ask it in a different way than through an online survey. But doing an online survey was our best option to reach a bigger audience, because what we needed was to see the extent of their thoughts on sustainable living and what that translates into in their daily lives.
Share of consumers who state they perform any of the following actions
One of our first questions was: ‘Why are consumers not going crazy about sustainable consumption?’ We could see that consumers are, in fact, doing numerous things to mitigate personal environmental impact, but that the primary strategies evolved around the home. From the start, my assumption had been that consumers are not jumping on the green consumption trend en masse because of a lack of awareness; they simply are not aware of the many options that exist for them out there. But we found a different truth as we looked through our data. We found that around one in three consumers think that it’s too expensive to buy environmentally friendly options for the products they use. Meaning environmentally friendly options such as hygiene products, and clothing items, for example. Yet we also know that the perception of value is a fluid thing. Let’s look deeper into this number, by introducing you to Andrew:
Andrew is in his early 30s, living in the city center with his partner and their one-year old child. It’s a small space, but they like living centrally. Walking over to a park, going to the cinema or passing by old boutiques – it’s all close by. Andrew has made sure to equip the family apartment with nice things like remote controlled lights, an Alexa device, designer furniture and artwork (in support of local designers, of course) as well as a Roomba vacuum cleaner. When they can, they enjoy traveling abroad for vacations at least once a year and enjoy short weekend trips to the countryside every now and then.
Both Andrew and his partner work hard during the week, so to simplify life, they use various services like food and grocery deliveries, subscriptions for reading, music, Netflix, HBO, and online shopping. They dine out whenever creativity in the kitchen is lacking, but also to get the extra time with the family, as life with a toddler is a rather busy one.
If you were to ask Andrew, what his thoughts are on how his family can live a more sustainable lifestyle, his answer would be something like: “Life is happening in the here and now, and life is short.
So we’re all about enjoying it as much as possible, with family and friends. We recycle, and are smart about energy consumption, if that’s what you mean.”
What might strike you at first, is how Andrew isn’t concerned about much else than daily life. He represents a consumer segment we’ve name My life comes first. There are many consumers who, similar to Andrew, are aware of some of the impacts that climate change is having. But since it hasn’t really impacted his daily life, it’s not considered as much of a problem (yet).
In fact, Andrew is among the one in three who references financial barriers to shopping for more environmentally friendly options. Though, should he? While the average person may go shopping around 27 times a month, Andrew is someone who averages at 45 times per month. Contradicting, isn’t it?
The average number of times per month spent for shopping
In reality, Andrew is a well-educated person with a good financial situation. Personal finance isn’t really the issue here, but rather that he’s a seeker of experiences, enjoyment and achieving a higher status. For him, value is embodied in material things that express progress and success in his life. How that could be translated into, for example, a shift to sustainable fashion isn’t top of mind for him at the moment.
Idea number 1:
Andrew is more centered around making his home efficient. He’s not really aware of what lifestyle changes he should make. The two main areas in Andrew’s (and his family’s) life that could be improved from an environmentally sustainable perspective, has to do with helping him address the way the family travels and shops. To address his needs and perceptions around value, relevant technology solutions could be shopping or travel-oriented, with a focus on adding ‘luxury’ and ‘uniqueness’ tags to the experience.
2. The future is grim
Research on the complexities of environmental sustainability might not be an easy read for the everyday person. But one thing is for sure: the natural environment is near breaking point, and the time we have left to limit severe outcomes such as ecological collapses is diminishing. That’s a scary thought, and it’s also an established truth. True enough that, around one in four consumers in our study believe that we are already too late in our attempts to save the planet. They believe that we’re heading towards disaster. Allow me to introduce you to Anne:
Anne is in her late 20s, she lives on the outskirts of the city and shares an apartment with a friend. She has a steady job, but it’s not as high-paying as she would like. She went to college and got a degree, but feels her career options are somewhat limited. However, she’s smart about money and has been able to save up and buy a car. Taking the car to work in the city helps her avoid walking home late at night, even though it takes her around 30-40 minutes to reach her destination (without traffic).
Anne often thinks about saving more, because she worries about not being able to pay the rent in case she suddenly loses her job. She’s careful about not shopping frivolously and at times buy things second-hand. She also tries to buy ecological food items whenever she can afford it, because she knows it’ll be better for her health and for the environment.
Though saving is a goal, she allows for a bigger spend once a year to visit family across the country. She’s always on the lookout for cheap flights, and weekend trips with friends is a must when work becomes too overwhelming.
She’s also concerned about the environment and where it’s heading. She feels more is needed to be done to protect the environment and is a believer in regulations to force companies to make changes. But she also thinks that people are a big part of the problem. They’re seemingly oblivious to climate change and they don’t inform themselves about their responsibilities to live more sustainably.
Share of consumers believing the following actors should hold responsibility for protecting the environment
If you ask Anne what she thinks she could do to help the environment, her response would be: “I don’t know what more I can do. I already make such a little mark on this world. And it’s not like what I do would make much difference anyway. We’re practically doomed.”
When the outlook for the environment isn’t looking great, there are different ways to go about it. One is to continue to attempt to make the right choices in our daily life, in the hopes that it can add to other good deeds done by everyone else. The second is to consider all to be lost, and when nothing you do can make things better, then why even bother?
For someone like Anne, a sense of responsibility and a genuine care for the environment makes her evaluate some aspects of her life that she thinks can have a positive impact on the environment, and help her finances. This includes frequent recycling, lowering her food waste, and conserving energy and water. At the same time, Anne is not considering the impact of her leisure traveling, while also being among the one in four consumers who think that we’re already too late in our global efforts to mitigate climate disaster. Her outlook colors her attitudes towards personal climate action. She represents the consumer segment we’ve named No use trying.
Anne’s financial worries aren’t entirely founded, as she’s a full-time professional within the mid-income bracket. But she also lives in a big city, meaning that her living expenses are high. Perception of income and wealth is of course relative, but her priorities evolve around having a life filled with experiences, having a good time, and having individual expression. Her financial situation is therefore influenced by her lifestyle choices. Despite her own belief that there isn’t much one can do to save the environment, there are areas in her life that she can adjust to do right by her finances and the environment.
Idea number 2:
Anne is very selective and mindful of her spending. She only spends money new and expensive things if it helps her save money, or become more efficient in the long run. Further adjustments to her life could be meaningful, but they should be placed in context, and allow her to see the impact they have at a community or city level. She simply needs to see that there’s a point in making an effort, and what this effort can mean on a bigger scale. The main way she could make impactful changes to decrease her environmental footprint relates to her commuting. It needs to be accessible, timely, safe and more financially viable than taking the car.
3. Priorities, priorities, priorities
What is it that ultimately drives consumers to act for the environment? There’s a lot of research that’s been done that attempts to answer this question. Certainly, having a high regard for the environment, a consideration for others and for society is a great start. But individuals who just don’t really care about anything related to the environment? Or those that simply deny climate change?
About 20 percent of consumers, that is, one in five, in our study actually express a pure disinterest in the topic of climate and climate change. To lead you into this sentiment, allow me to introduce you to John:
John is in his late 30s, married with two kids and living in a house close to the city center of a major city. John’s parents never had the means to send him to university, but that never hindered John to finish the education he did get, and work his way up. He’s proud that he’s able to provide for his family, has a steady job and lives well. His neighborhood can be classified as average income, rather than well-off.
John has chosen a living standard and housing situation that matches his aspiration, which is based on safety and personal progress. Even though it’s a high expense to own a house so centrally, it’s a financial sacrifice he and his spouse are prepared to make.
His biggest mission in life is to teach his children the importance of good values, of family, maintaining good manners and, crucially, keeping family traditions intact. John isn’t interested in things like shopping. At best he helps with getting the groceries, but all things related to household needs is taken care of by his spouse. John would rather focus his time on fixing stuff around the house, helping the kids with their homework or helping out in the community with his handyman skills.
His main concern in life is financial stability, as he’s concerned about what the loss of a job could mean for the wellbeing of his family. Healthcare is a challenge, as it’s expensive to see a doctor. In this regard, John knows he should pay more attention to his diet and exercise more. But life’s just too busy at the moment.
Even though both John and his spouse work full time, finances are limited, so their once-a-year luxury is a trip abroad with the kids. They also use the family car for weekend trips, visiting friends or relatives outside the city. Other than that, John’s wife is the most frequent user of the car for picking up the kids, dropping them off at after-school activities and at times dropping John off at work. He’s fine with taking the bus every now and then. But life really is hectic, so every bit of time him and his wife get to spend together is a blessing.
Is there anything that strikes you as odd about John? No? There isn’t much oddity behind neither his life nor his priorities. When it comes to the whole topic of climate and environmental sustainability, he just has no interest. He represents the consumer segment we’ve named Really don’t care.
Much like Andrew, John is driven by materialistic success and it’s important to him to show the world that he has his priorities straight, and has achieved something with his hard work. But contrary to Andrew, John cares less about buying fancy artwork. Instead, he expresses his self-image through the house they own, the neighborhood they live in, the ownership of a car and making sure that the family is well taken care of financially. John doesn’t engulf himself in new technology. He’s a moderate internet user and would rather focus his time on caring for his family’s needs.
Furthermore, John isn’t a person to express a need for lifestyle adjustments, because his life is just the way he wants it to be. There is however an area of his life where he could be making improvements: his health, the health of his family, and the health of the natural environment.
Idea number 3:
John’s pride in life is his family and their wellbeing. One important area in John’s life where adjustments could be made to promote a more sustainable lifestyle for him and his family relates to diet. John is among those consumers that report a limited intake of a green diet and a limited spend on ecological produce. He’s also among the 84 percent of consumers in our study that underestimate the impact of diet on the environment, even though health is an area he’d be interested in improving on.
Community life is also important to him. A food-oriented service would allow the family to take advantage of locally sourced and ecological produce, while also demonstrating to the family the positive impact it has on health, soil quality and the local economy. Climate action would then be more contextualized for him, and bring it closer to home, where action can be linked to something tangible for him.
4. Being wise, free, and explorative
You might assume that consumers who are in fact informed about the environmental challenges of today, also live by principles that limits their personal environmental footprint. At least, this was my assumption. What is interesting is that in our data, we identified two very similar consumer segments, but are different in certain aspects. In similarity, consumers in both segments express a high concern for the environment, and moderate and intentional consumption habits. They frequently purchase ecological produce and often eat a plant-based diet. But their values are starkly different. To illustrate this, l’ll introduce you to Mona:
Mona just turned 40 this year. She’s married and is mom to a young teenager. The family lives in a house in the suburbs of a big metropolis. They could have afforded an apartment in the city, but the family prefers the lawn-and-dog life to the noisy city streets. Both Mona and her husband are full-time professionals working in the city, and the car is needed to get back-and-forth to school, to after-school activities and to go to work during the week.
The family has a glasshouse where they grow some herbs, salad and there’s a spot near the house for potatoes and other light greens. Mona also visits a nearby farmer’s market on the weekends to buy locally produced greens. Health is important to Mona, so she makes the effort to shop for groceries that are ecological and GMO free. She runs twice a week and goes for long walks with her spouse during the weekends. She enjoys cooking and tries to cook several evenings in the week. But when creativity is lacking, they order healthy, ready-made plates that the family can enjoy.
Life is pretty hectic and Mona is a hard worker, so weekends are often spent entertaining friends with barbeques at the house or weekend trips to the countryside. Mona loves every opportunity she can get to travel, and it’s important for her to introduce her son to other environments, cultures, ideas and foods! So the family goes for various trips throughout the year, and sometimes head to the ski slopes during winter, depending on how successfully she can find cheap flights and tickets.
One of Mona’s great concerns in life is the future, the future of the planet and the kind of world her son will live in. She’s a strong believer in regulations and thinks that climate change can be slowed down, and that mankind can help the planet heal, if governments, businesses and citizens work together. She also believes that some of the challenges that the environment faces can be solved with intelligent and innovative technologies the world has yet to see. She has such high regards for the power of tech, that she has incorporated some of it in her home. She has Philips Hues lights that she can control remotely, or get her Alexa to do it for her, a Nest to control heating and has equipped the home with smart remote-controlled plugs. Apart from minimizing the use of plastics, recycling and conserving energy, Mona also makes sure they invest in energy-efficient appliances. Life is going well – it’s hectic, but good.
What might strike you at first, is that Mona is attempting to do good by her and her family when it comes to their environmental impact. She maintains a positivity and thinks that, despite all the environmental challenges that exist, there’s still an opportunity to save the day. That’s why she represents the consumer segment we’ve named The optimist.
But perhaps her outlooks on her life is a bit too optimistic. Mona has a genuine care for others, society at large and the environment in particular. It’s very likely that Mona thinks that any wrong decisions (from an environmental sustainability point of view) would be outweighed by all the good she already does. She’s willing to do more, but might not be aware of how and what to do.
One immediate area in Mona’s and her family’s life where they can address their environmental footprint, relates to traveling. While the average consumer might go on three or four leisure trips throughout the year – including by air, bus, car or boat – Mona and her family take about 10 trips a year, two of these involving flying. After all, Mona is driven by values such as pleasure, having fun and seeking experiences.
The average number of trips made within the last 12 months via different modes of transport
Idea number 4:
It’s clear that seeking new experiences and traveling matter to Mona and her family. In and of itself, travel isn’t necessarily a bad thing from an environmental point of view. But flying isn’t a necessity to explore new places. To address this, Mona would benefit from a travel service where she can decide on the type of experience she’s looking for, and develop a travel itinerary that involves other modes of transport. Perhaps she can combine her love for travel and her interest in healthy living…
5. We’re in this together. Everyone.
The second environmentally engaged segment has a slightly different approach to life. This is a group of consumers that not only talk the talk when it comes to leading a sustainable lifestyle, they also walk the walk. Their concern for the environment shines through in many ways, when looking at the lifestyle they have. To give you an idea of what I’m referring to, I’d like to introduce you to Natalie:
Natalie is in her late 40s, and now lives alone with her spouse, since their only child moved out to go to university. They live in a house in the suburbs, and both have office jobs in the city. They have an old car, but the house is close to a bus line, taking them straight to the nearest subway station, and the commute isn’t too long. Both she and her spouse like the extra exercise they get when commuting. Natalie prefers to use the car for weekend use only.
Natalie enjoys the calm life in the suburbs. Her community and the neighbors are close, and everyone knows each other, perhaps because Natalie and her family have lived there for a long time. Both she and her spouse enjoy gardening and they grow a few things in their garden. They also support a local collective, gathering fresh produce from different farms outside the city limits. Although life is a bit quieter now that it’s just her and her spouse, Natalie is still very occupied with her work. Her spare time is spent in the garden, joining community events, meeting up with friends or entertaining at the house.
Having a good internet connection is also important to Natalie, not only for work but for watching sports on their set-top box and movie nights on Netflix. Beyond that, Natalie isn’t very fanatic about technology and they haven’t invested in any smart appliances or assistants. She’d rather take care of her household needs herself and she’s mindful of how they conserve energy, recycle, limit food waste and maintain energy-efficient appliances.
When she was young, Natalie was very interested in fashion, but this has changed over the years and the family holds back on any excessive consumption. Natalie herself has joined the minimalism trend and has decluttered around the house and her own belongings. She even managed to convince her spouse to take on their joint closet.
The number one thing that worries Natalie is the environment and its impact on the world. She worries about the future and often thinks about the kind of life the next generation will have. Natalie is convinced that the world is about to face a complete environmental disaster, and there won’t be enough time to stop it. Still, Natalie does everything she, and her family can to support the things that matter the most: taking care of relationships, limiting consumption to the necessities and traveling mindfully. Having raised her child with these values, her hope is that the next generation will be smarter about the way they live and better care for the environment. She hopes that governments take action and pose regulations for everyone’s benefit.
Driven by core values, like being in tune with nature, protecting the environment, being open-minded and showing respect for others, Natalie is a good representation of the consumer segment we’ve named The responsible. With a sense of responsibility for others and the environment, there is little else one can point to regarding necessary lifestyle adjustments for the environment. Among all segments in our study, the responsible shop the least, travel (for leisure) the least and take the most action in daily life to mitigate personal environmental impact.
Actions include conserving energy and water, limiting waste and keeping technology devices in the home for as long as they can last before changing them. Though she doesn’t buy new things frequently, when she does, they should serve a purpose and be environmentally sound. However, there is one thing that would help Natalie, which she sometimes poses a restriction on for herself and her family, but that she could be enjoying more of.
Idea number 5:
For consumers like Natalie, being mindful about nature, and our relationship with it, is important. Even though she knows that traveling (by air) is bad for the environment, she’s someone who’s curious about others, and the world. Even though she wants to be mindful of how she travels, she’d would like to do more of it, without causing a large environmental impact. Natalie would therefore be interested in a travel service that allows her the luxury of new experiences, while staying true to her core values.
There’s no such thing as one-size fits all when promoting sustainable lifestyles through technology
We can see from our data that concern for environmental challenges such as climate change and pollution is a growing trend among consumers. In the last two decades alone, the concern for air and water pollution has gone from concerning one in five consumers, to almost one in two. And the concern for climate change has risen from concerning 13 percent of consumers to 50 percent.
We also see that the majority of consumers in our study already apply various strategies to address their consumption habits, yet they’re often unaware which of their habits have the highest environmental impact. This was particularly clear to us, as in our study we explored the consumers’
reactions to eight different ICT solutions that addressed different challenges in daily life to making more environmentally friendly choices.
What we found was that, for individuals like Mona and Natalie who are environmentally engaged and understanding of the impact they themselves might have on the environment due to their lifestyles, the interest in travel services and food-related services were in fact interesting to them. A perfect match between needs and drivers. Though for someone like Mona, her interests were driven by health and efficiency, while for someone like Natalie it was health and environmentally related.
For individuals like Andrew, who expressed an interest in two of the concepts, the interest was driven by both the efficiency the solutions provided, as well as the novelty of the service. Unfortunately, he would also have chosen concepts related to monitoring consumption in the home, as well as diet, when in reality Andrew has other areas in life in need of slight adjustments. While for someone like John, who would need to do some lifestyle changes to address his personal environmental impact, did not express interest in more than one solution. Partly because of his lack of interest in ICT solutions in general, and partly because he isn’t really aware of where in life he needs to make adjustments. His tendency would be to turn to ICT solutions for the home, and just like Anne, his driver is financial, though efficiency is also on John’s agenda.
In reality, there are numerous aspects of consumers’ lives where ICT solutions could in fact aid them in making better choices with respect to environmental impact, even though for each individual portrayed in this post, I only discuss one such area per person. But we need to keep in mind that changing your lifestyle means adopting new behaviors and maintaining them over a long period of time. To maintain new habits, they should make sense in the context of what your life looks like today, but at the same time be impactful enough to justify doing them in the first place.
Since we all live our lives slightly differently depending on things like our values, interests, ambitions or wants in life, our motivations will differ in the changes we make in life, and how we adapt. But one thing is for sure: it’s critical to find ways to help consumers make better and more sustainable choices in daily life. If these match specific needs areas, there’s a higher chance that they’ll bring value to consumers.
Given that not all consumers run towards products and services with a green certificate (although, you might feel that they should), it’s up to the designers of the technology innovations to package them in a way that works for consumers, no matter their interest in climate action or not. After all, the idea is to promote impactful behavior changes, and 50 percent of consumers in our study identify companies and brands as needing to take their share of responsibility for the environment. So if the products and services that consumers are offered are done well and with sustainability at its core, it will be easier for consumers to make the better choices.
While consumers are, to varying degrees, trying to mitigate personal impact, the state of the environment and the climate continues to deteriorate. Though some consumers might not worry too much (yet) about the state of the environment, many increasingly find that it cannot be left to individual actions to truly protect it.
Shaping our personal stories
Our insights guide our understanding that consumers are lacking a clear picture of how their individual actions contribute to a greater effort to protecting the environment. Be it on a local, national or global level, it’s clear that consumers are calling on decision makers and other critical actors to take action, because they are unsure of what else to do.
In essence, how and what consumers do to mitigate personal impact should be part of an overarching national sustainability agenda that engages levels of government, the business sector and other non-government agents. We should think of this combination of national strategies and technological innovation, as well as consumer drive and interest, not only as a framework where consumers can truly be part of a dedicated action plan, but also a model that delivers on a core need – a collective action to protect the environment. And that would definitely be a win-win for everyone.
Taking a first step to shaping our personal journeys into more sustainable lives can start today, on World Environmental Day.
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