Communicating the Sustainability Message to the Public: Lessons from Marketing

By Anne Sharp and Stine Høj.

Published by The Sustainability Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The world today sees a host of environmental challenges – pollution, loss of biodiversity, and climate change. Our consumption is the cause of much of this. Demand has such power that it drives producers to do things that destroy the long-term prospects of their own industries.
Tackling these challenges effectively will rely on people making consumption changes, and to have any hope of real behavioural change consumers must understand what they need to do and why. This paper illustrates how the discipline of marketing can make a significant contribution to this challenge.
The first step is to have a clear understanding of the public’s current knowledge of the issues. This paper presents benchmarking for the Australian public’s understanding of climate change, reporting on levels of interest and self-assessed knowledge, as well as the results of objective knowledge tests. The findings in brief are that Australians know very little. There is a clear need for education of the public surrounding these issues. Because of this, best practice is required for communicating messages aimed at changing behaviour. This is one area in which the marketing discipline can contribute.
This contribution is illustrated through an evaluation of the effectiveness of a $AU 25 million federal government advertising campaign aimed at behavioural change to reduce carbon emissions. A key focus of the advertising was to encourage Australians to visit a website or call a hotline to learn how they could become “Climate Clever.” This research shows that broadly, cut-through for the message was poor – with low recall and even lower responses to the call for action. This highlights the work to be done to educate consumers and bring about behavioural changes, especially given that the research shows two in five Australians admit to knowing little or nothing about global warming.
This paper makes the case that an effective national campaign will need leading-edge marketing to get the message across, and discusses lessons from marketing that can be taken into this context for improved future campaigns.

Keywords: Marketing, Behavioural Change, Climate Change

The International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.179-190. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.200MB).

Dr. Anne Sharp

Senior Research Fellow, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Dr. Anne Sharp is a Senior Research Fellow at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science at the University of South Australia, where she heads the Sustainable Marketing research group. Her research spans both the market research and social issues research context. She has worked collaboratively with a wide range of industry partners including government departments, city councils, ambulance services, regulatory bodies, educational groups and, of particular interest, environmental groups. All Anne’s research work has the common theme of helping to establish empirical generalizations in marketing. Anne has published over 30 refereed conference papers and journal articles, with her work appearing in top international journals such as the European Journal of Marketing and the International Journal of Research in Marketing (twice). Dr Sharp is a full member of the Market and Social Research Society of Australia and teaches Market Research at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Stine Høj

Research Associate, Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia

Stine graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing) and joined the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute's Sustainable Marketing research team in 2008. She has worked on research projects for clients in a range of industries, including government departments Stine has published papers relating to the level of concern and objective understanding of global warming issues amongst the Australian population and their responsiveness to Government interventions in this area.

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