What are the barriers to mass adoption of sustainability? – Part 2

What are the barriers to mass adoption of sustainability? – Part 2

A number of comments, on the original and later posts, as well as other discoveries have pointed me to additional barriers to mass adoption of sustainability. They’re below, bringing the total to 21 (Greenjack?). While I’ve categorized these barriers as marketing issues, it seems human psychology plays a major role. The marketing of sustainability must, therefore, understand these issues in the target audiences’ minds.

Referring to “barriers” may be misleading. It’s not to say, the barriers are aplenty, it’s such an uphill battle we might as well pack up and go do something else. Each “barrier” in both posts represents a wall to be torn down – an opportunity.

Storytelling. Stories are how we communicate, stories are how we understand and act upon things. What’s the story of sustainability? People don’t relate to products or brands or concepts – people relate to people.

Language (via Bernice Paul). We’re using linear language to convey a systems concept. The clash is subtle yet significant. It’s like using old tools to solve new problems.

(Ir)relevance (via Carolina). The absence of stories and the use of unsuitable language makes for a weak connection to people’s lives. For some, sustainable practices just don’t seem to be that relevant to their everyday experiences.

Information overload (via Perrine Bouhana). Sustainability may also seem irrelevant because it appears daunting. So many things to do, so much to think about, so numerous the options and considerations and implications… Our brains are not wired for thinking, and when faced with too much information, they stick to what they know.

Personal politics. Sustainability originated in liberal (as in, American left wing) politics. If you hold more conservative views, wishing for things to stay the way they are and any problems to be solved within the current framework, you’ll reject sustainability’s call for radical change.

Greenwashing-induced skepticism (via Perrine Bouhana). Green flooded the market only to be caught, time and again, in the greenwashing spin cycle. If you get burned by greenwashing, you’ll approach the next green claim with caution. If you get burned repeatedly, your trust will dissipate altogether.

Endowment effect. You value what you have more than what you don’t have. What you have is concrete and familiar. Grass is greener right here, right now.

Status quo bias. Similarly, you prefer to keep things as they are – you’re more afraid to lose what you have than you look forward to getting something new. According to The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki, “[W]e feel the pain of losses more than we enjoy the pleasure of gains.”

Uncertainty. It’s hard to let go of what you have and of the status quo because they’re both assured – they’re both present in the present. Certainty is the ultimate comfort. Nobody knows what changing your lifestyle or the way you do business will be like. The future is uncertain, so you stick with the current certainty.

Meaning (via Rich Bruer). Things you own or wish to own help construct your identity. They’re signs you use to communicate who you are to others. Consumption creates meaning in your life; it’s material, it’s tangible, it’s observable – by you and by others.

Short-termism (via Carolina). Sustainability has a long view, which requires the type of thinking our survivalist brains are not built for. Add the pressures of quarterly earnings or mortgage payments, and what happens ten, fifty, or more years down the line just doesn’t seem so relevant.

Paradigm shift. Because sustainability is a new paradigm, the transition to it requires a paradigm shift, which is a long process we’ve barely embarked on.

What’s your take? Anything you can add?


This commentary can be found originally at:

Sustainable Marketing Blog by Peter Korchnak.  Better triple bottom line.