Seven Crazy Reasons Consumers Won’t Embrace Your Green Innovation

green innovation rejectedThis story first appeared in Triple Pundit January 11th, 2013.

A while back, OgilvyEarth released a great study on the reasons more consumers didn’t switch to sustainable brands. Too elitist, too granola, too ‘girly’, etc… all the reasons were easy to understand, and easy to trace back to reality. Movie stars did like Priuses, Ben and Jerry were hippies, and the LOHAS set did love soap and yoga more than beer and power drills.

So all we needed to do was create green innovation to fill in the gaps and right the wrongs, and we’d be off to the races.

Guess again.

In a conversation I had with Jim Nelson, a marketer at BC Hydro, I learned more about the myriad of subtle, not-so-rational reasons that prevent consumers from acting on their sustainable instincts.

If Hydro has built impressive expertise on the subject, it’s because their green innovation is a particularly tough sell. As Nelson says “We’re trying to convince consumers to save energy in a market where there’s little incentive – BC’s power comes from hydro dams, so it’s clean and has one of the lowest price tags for power in North America. As a result, people see no big benefit to saving energy from a wallet perspective, and there’s no coal smog to spur action.”

Of course, there is low-hanging fruit to be picked. Using lifecycle analysis, the utility is helping businesses see the advantage of more efficient equipment. And loyalty programs that offer access to special tools and challenges are bridging the gap with consumers

But Nelson pointed out that there were at least seven psychological barriers to change that his team had to contend with. As easy as they are to recognize, they’re deep seated and difficult to dislodge. If you’re in the business of marketing green innovation (or any innovation, for that matter), here’s what you’re up against.

Status Quo Bias  Status Quo Bias is an irrational preference for the current state of affairs. What’s interesting here is that the bias isn’t against inferior alternatives, or a lack of information on alternatives. It’s against ANY change from the status quo.

Semmelweis Reflex  The Semmelweis Reflex is a metaphor for the reflex-like tendency to reject new evidence or knowledge simply because it contradicts established norms, beliefs or paradigms. As author Dr. Timothy Leary said, it’s a state where “…a discovery of important scientific fact is punished.”

Mere-exposure Effect  The Mere-exposure Effect is a psychological phenomenon where people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. It can be something as simple as preference for a face you’re familiar with, or ‘warming’ up to an idea only after being exposed to it a number of times.

Loss Aversion  Loss Aversion refers to people’s tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses over acquiring gains. Some studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains – I would hate to lose $100 much more than I’d feel great about winning $100.

Knowledge Bias  Knowledge Bias refers to the tendency of people to choose the option they know best, rather than the best option. This includes well-known principles like the curse of knowledge, when having indepth knowledge of a subject prevents us from thinking about it from a less-informed perspective.

 Anchoring Anchoring is the tendency to rely too heavily (or ‘anchor’) on a past reference or one piece of information when making judgements. Think of how we judge a ‘good’ price for a product based on the first price we see – any subsequent price we see is judged high or low based on our first price.

Hyperbolic Discounting  Hyperbolic Discounting  is our preference for rewards that arrive sooner rather than later. And the longer the delayed reward, the less we value it. Think long-term payback through energy efficiency vs immediate reward via lower equipment price.


Unfortunately, once a negative perception to a product or behavior is established, it’s difficult to unattach. This explains our collective frustration at not moving more quickly to shift to more sustainable behavior, despite the knowledge that inaction is to our detriment.

That said, forewarned is forearmed. In Hydro’s case, understanding these drivers enables the marketing team to adjust programs and fail forward faster. How will they impact your next green innovation?

Marc Stoiber is a creative strategist who helps clients across North America build resilient, futureproof brands. He also blogs extensively on futureproofing for publications like Huffington Post and Fast Company, and speaks on the subject from coast to coast.

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Posted in Brands, Energy, Green Business, Innovation, Uncategorized

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