Get Them When They Are Young

I just finished reading the 1997 re-release of Vance Packard’s book The Hidden Pursuaders,  a fascinating book about how through the addition of psychology and sociology, adverting firms were able to become more effective at placing products in the consumer minds.

One section focused on how children soaked up advertising, and through this process, the children could become a huge force in the way their parents spent their money..

So, when reading the recent Stanford Social Innovation Article Cultivating the Green Consumer, I once again found another excellent article on how we need to begin greening the consumer minds.

focused more on the US market, this article is equally adaptable to the Chinese market, and at its core the authors suggest that at the core of the problem there are 5 barriers in the way of consumers choosing “green” products over “brown”:

  • Lack of Awareness
  • Negative Perceptions – many environmentally friendly products suffer an image problem
  • Distrust – Consumers doubt not only the quality of green products, but also their very greenness
  • High Prices – The largest barrier
  • Low Availability – They can’t find them

All of which I would agree with, however I think it would have been nice to have seen this study broken out a bit more as there are certainly parts of the US (and China) who are going to be more aware, more willing to pay the premium, and be able to find the products.

to break down the barriers, the authors suggest:

  • Educate Consumers – Because consumers are largely unaware of green alternatives, businesses first need to think of themselves as educators, not salespeople.
  • Build Better Products – companies must create ones that are equal to, or better than, conventional alternatives.
  • Be Honest – companies must inform the public about their true environmental impact, as well as about their attempts to reduce that impact.
  • Offer More – companies must make sure that consumers understand the returns—both financial and environmental—on their investment.
  • Bring Products to the People – Companies cannot sell their products if consumers cannot find them.

Again, all good points, however I would say first and foremost that it is not necessarily as important to build something better than it is to make sure that consumers are aware of how their current consumption patterns and expectations are simply not sustainable…. and like Vance PAckard’s book suggests, we need to get them young by amping up the environmental science curriculms in primary schools.

Teaching children the basic laws of the environment, how they have an impact as individuals and as a collective, and then how they can talk to their parents are all cruical elements of this. Fortunately in China, we already have groups like Roots & Shoot and Gecko that are doing this, but the scale of their operations is far behind where we need it to be.

At the same time, public education campaigns need to be developed, funded, and executed.  A save the Yangtze dolphin day at the zoos in Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, and HK should be organized to happen on a single day, water consumption and conservation events on Nanjing and Jianguomen roads, and energy conservation activities in the metro stations…. and so on.

Access to products, a given anywhere, will be particularly important in China, and with China currently in the middle of a food scandal that is rocking the system, I cannot think of a better time than now to get started with pushing organic foods and rooftop gardens.  Putting together a strong awareness campaign with the partnership of the government is essential, and doable!

As James Kunstler said during one of his TED presentations, “we need to stop being consumers, and start being citizens”, and through the steps that SSIR recommends (and a few of my own), I think China can turn the corner.  It is still very early on in China’s development, and we need to get them while they are young.

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