Sustainability Innovation: Less Gloom, More Fun? Happy Earth Day!

The world’s demand for resources (food, energy, water, minerals) seems to be outrunning our ability to supply these needs in a way that doesn’t dramatically impact our lives. We are increasingly exposed to threats such as rising core inflation (described recently by Chinese officials as a long-term, not short-term challenge), financial burdens of securing energy supplies (and the cost of investing in new ones), and the multiple economic and social risks of long-term climate change on our planet and way of life.

The trouble is that, according to “Mainstream Green“, a new report released by Ogilvy Earth, all this doom and gloom hasn’t been particularly effective in driving mainstream consumers to make (and push for) changes to reduce demand for energy and other resources.

In the US, there’s a 30 percentage point gap between people’s stated importance of living sustainably (80% say this is important), and their action (50% engage in sustainable behavior, e.g. taking public transportation or hiking/biking to work; using eco-friendly products and recycling). (It’s less in China — 14 points — for reasons covered at length in the report.) The mainstream consumer isn’t adopting or championing behavior change.

The possible solution?

Frame sustainability in a way that makes it an attractive and desirable lifestyle for mainstream consumers.

Here are 3 specific examples of this emerging approach:

Opower has used the principle of social proof (i.e. my friends are doing something, so should I) by including indicators of comparative energy use in monthly utility bills (such as a smiley face), resulting in an average energy savings of 1.5% to 3.5% across a utility’s entire population — implemented nationwide, this could save about 60 million megawatt hours per year (that’s enough to power New York City for a full year), based on the EIA‘s US net energy consumption statistics and data from


Recyclebank rewards people for taking everyday green/sustainability actions with special offers from more than 3,000 local and national businesses; in a Cincinnati program, reported in, over 1,681 tons of recyclables were collected (300 tons higher than any other month in the 21 year history of the program), and the percentage of recycling participants rose from 40% to 60%

The newest entrant to the idea of making sustainability more engaging and broadly appealing is Ecotopia, a new Conservation International-sponsored Facebook social game launching today.

If guilt and doom won’t drive change, these approaches — grounded in behavioral and influence principles — just might help?

Crossposted to

Published by

Irfan Kamal

VP, Digital Strategy