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Lighting, Retail, and the Sustainability-Conscious Consumer

September 17, 2021

Lighting, Retail, and the Sustainability-Conscious Consumer

Many consumers report interest in buying from sustainable brands, but translating sentiment to purchase can prove elusive—especially in industries that have been traditionally rugged or “masculine.” Here are some learnings from other brands and studies.

There is a common conception that consumers—particularly Millennials and Gen Z-ers—are more likely to purchase from sustainable, environmentally-conscious brands. While the environment can be a polarizing issue and overall consumer attitudes have waffled for decades, researchers at Forrester believe that 2020 marked a turning point: “Consumers who wear protective gear and practice social distancing think less about themselves and more about those around them; many also celebrate the fact that reduced activity has a positive effect on the planet.”

But, whether in the aisle or comparing products online, there are many other factors that influence the ultimate purchase decision. Lighting retailers and brands must understand not only their target customer, a large portion of which is male, but how sustainability fits into their overall message and value proposition. Here are some lessons they can glean from other organizations seen as sustainability leaders.

Here are some solutions that are superbly DIY and Zoom-friendly.

Understand sustainability’s place within your messaging hierarchy.

What are the very first things that come to mind when you think of a Tesla? For most, it’s luxury, design, and performance—not necessarily sustainability. While everyone knows a Tesla is an electric vehicle (and, therefore, eco-friendly), its “green credentials” are secondary to other benefits in its messaging and branding.

Tesla knows that while many customers care about sustainability, it isn’t the number one purchase driver for its target customer. Some men might even consider eco-friendly products too “feminine,” but few would have that concern about driving a Tesla.

Adapt messaging to your unique customer.

Brands and companies that have been around a long time have likely adopted more sustainable practices to modernize, in some cases, stay compliant. But what’s the best way to promote these changes without altering an established and well-loved brand (or alienating any consumers)?

A great example is from Jack Daniels, which wove sustainability messages into its “rugged” branding. One of its ads, for example, used the headline “With all due respect to progress, the world could use a little less plastic” along with an image of wooden whisky barrels.

Overcome the ‘energy paradox’ with education and perks.

While energy-efficient technologies like LED lighting can save consumers money over the long-term, some may hesitate to accept the trade-off in purchasing sustainable or energy efficient products (a higher price tag).

A Poverty Action Lab study on the lightbulb market found that tactics like coupons were an effective way to drive CFL adoption (vs. incandescent) in an in-store setting, and online shoppers that were given information to compare price and energy costs of incandescent and CFL bulbs were willing to pay more for CFLs.

Increasingly, manufacturers like Cooper Lighting Solutions are offering tools like incentive finders and energy savings calculators to communicate the tangible benefits of energy efficient products.

Make sustainability part of your DNA, not just a talking point.

Ideally, brands should commit to sustainability not just for their marketing benefits, but out of a sense of responsibility—besides, today’s consumers can sense inauthenticity from a mile away.

Global lighting leader Signify doesn’t just talk the talk. It developed and documented “Sustainable Development Goals” and milestones and provides regular progress updates on its website. “Sustainability is at the heart of our purpose: to unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world,” the site reads.

Among its key initiatives: distributing solar and LED products to off-the-grid and underserved regions, a “zero waste” landfill program, and achieving carbon neutrality in 2020. It has also committed to reducing 2,500 tons of plastic globally by phasing out plastic in consumer product packaging.

By buying from and partnering with purpose-driven brands like Signify and Cooper Lighting Solutions (which are also known for their product quality and customer service), both consumers and retailers can feel confident that they are on the right side of the sustainability movement.

Don’t forget to promote the benefits to the consumer, too.

2011: Energy-efficient technologies have the potential to save consumers money, but the adoption of many energy-efficient products remains low, a phenomenon termed the “Energy Paradox.”

The Lightbulb Paradox: Consumer Behavior and Public Policy in the U.S. Electricity Market

The Elusive Green Consumer

“Few consumers who report positive attitudes toward eco-friendly products and services follow through with their wallets.”

 In one recent survey 65% said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, yet only about 26% actually do so.

In one example, when people valued strength in a product—a car cleaner, say—they were less likely to choose sustainable options. One way to offset such negative associations is to highlight the product’s positively viewed attributes—such as innovativeness, novelty, and safety.

Nudging sustainable consumption: The use of descriptive norms to promote a minority behavior in a realistic online shopping environment

Recent research by one of us (Hardisty) found that consumers who are buying appliances or electronics typically don’t think about energy efficiency—and even if they do, they don’t care as much about future energy saving as about the up-front price.

Empowered Consumers Call For Sustainability Transformation