Does ‘Green’ Help or Hinder Behavior Change?

February 5, 2013
  • Rosa Kusbiantoro portrait

    Rosa Kusbiantoro

    Director, Transformation, BSR

Rosa Kusbiantoro, Associate, Advisory Services

The Green Power Hike, which recently took place in Hong Kong, is an annual fundraising event that focuses on environmental conservation and education. It’s a great initiative, but it serves as another reminder of just how inundated my daily life has become by the word “green” and how many different meanings the word has come to adopt. I am beginning to think that green is going through an identity crisis. 

I am reminded by every online bank statement and utility bill that the company has “gone green.” My television regularly flashes commercials promoting “green” appliances. Every hotel I visit has signs asking me to support its “green” efforts by not replacing linen and towels. Supermarkets charge me extra if I need a plastic shopping bag; some provide me with “green” biodegradable bags instead. I see advertisements for “green” hybrid cars when I log in to Facebook, and my inbox is full of tiny green tree or leaf icons.

BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer recently spoke about the overuse of the word in a Climate One panel at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club. Cramer pointed out that “'green' is a dangerous word,” loaded because no product can achieve total sustainability.

While many green initiatives appear to be commendable, the obvious—and hard-to-answer—accompanying questions include:

  • Are green initiatives spurring consumer behavior change?
  • If so, are these actions creating any positive impact on the environment?
  • Are purchasing and behavioral decisions made at the personal level truly impactful at a global level?
  • And if they aren’t, what can we do about it?

At first glance, some so-called green initiatives might be dismissed as marketing gimmicks or as a way for people to feel less guilty about their personal consumption patterns. After all, air quality, flooding, and traffic congestion remain chronic problems for major cities around the world, especially in Asia. The reality is that solutions to these large-scale issues are long-term and complex, requiring action not only from the public and businesses, but from government as well.

Yet, even if the impacts of these initiatives are not always apparent, they still play an important role in education and awareness raising. The recent election of the governor of Jakarta was due in part to the public’s strong support for his platform of innovative solutions to tackle environmental issues.

Although the introduction of green initiatives may be met with skepticism or fatigue, consumers and governments are growing to expect them as a standard offering: A lack of these initiatives may soon become a negative differentiator. Ultimately, we should reach a point where sustainable consumer behavior becomes second nature and where companies no longer need to qualify their initiatives as green.

But until we get there, I welcome the continuing tsunami of green in my mailbox.

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