Differing public attitudes to sustainability offer a creative challenge

There was a point in the 1990s when UK politicians needed to adjust to the advent of 24-hour news cycles. They realised they needed to repeat a message again and again until it was received. Saturation, according to this thought, was a good thing as only then would awareness be dawning.

58% of teenagers are still not following a definition that sustainability professionals would like, or even one the planet requires. 

Sustainability is now a lead player in modern communication. Brands jostle to position their green credentials and people become more and more aware for the need for a sustainable course in society. A recent poll conducted by Rank a Brand in the Netherlands amongst 400 teenagers found that 45% thought that sustainability meant making products in a fair and ecological manner. This is a far higher proportion than could be imagined a decade ago. However, 33% felt that it meant that goods would last longer and 16% that companies were doing well financially during the economic crises. This means that 58% are still not following a definition that sustainability professionals would like, even that the planet requires.

A sphere of definition 

Sustainability is perhaps the first holistic concept to gain anything close to mass adoption. It sums up an integration of factors that balance social, environmental and economic poles. It engenders a concern for humanity that sees it as a being in a wider sphere of being that includes the biosphere. It also sees human priorities in the context of social and psychical requirements. In sustainability, you accept that there is such a thing as ‘enough’, and accept economic growth as an outcome of a deeper purpose being achieved.

It is the multi-dimensionality of sustainability that makes even its partial acceptance a very healthy statement of where society is going. And if adolescents are clued up, so much the better.

However, the differing ways that sustainability is interpreted could be the reason for a trend that concerns professionals and academics: the attitude/behaviour gap. A recent Sustainable Brands discussion posed the problem that consumers often state a desire to be sustainable but make different choices – indeed this gap between behaviour and action is  exhibited by companies too..

The Fighter’s response

Rather than despair, a fighter’s response is to go even deeper. There could be many factors that lead to differing choices being taken and we would like to think it is up to companies to investigate the barriers that exist. Since a sustainable path is no longer a choice, how can companies make it a hallmark of their brand? How can green be made a priority without inflating costs?

We like to tackle these difficult questions because we believe it requires a more creative mindset, one that we prepare managers and their teams to apply. Sustainability may be the buzzword but there is a long way to go before consumer and company behaviour is truly transformed. And that requires drawing on another aspect of the meaning of sustainability: persistence.