June 2010: Businesses must think about the unmet needs of their customers

By , December 27, 2010 11:01 pm

June 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

When governmental bodies try and get people to reduce their environmental impact, they sometimes talk about an ‘attitude-behaviour gap’. Instead, why not consider it as an ‘unmet need’, where consumers ‘low-carbon desires’ are not met by current ‘high-carbon behaviour’. This should move some of the responsibility away from ‘the consumer’, and onto businesses to think creatively about providing compelling low-carbon products and services.

As the CBI Climate Change board states[1], ‘government, business and consumers all have a role to play in making the shift to a low-carbon economy’. Yet, if you work in business, what specifically are you expected to do to fulfil this role? A lot seems to depend on your perspective.

One common frame is to see climate change as an environmental challenge. Based on social marketing principles, this is about governments trying to get the public to change both their attitudes and behaviour in response to climate change. Drawing on experience of public health campaigns, it’s about getting people to do the things they ought to do. A good example is the UK’s ‘Are You Doing Your Bit?’ campaign, which was designed to encourage people ‘not to leave their TV on standby’, ‘walk instead of taking a car’, ‘use public transport not car’ (pages 51, 52)[2], and so on. This is the language of DEFRA, NESTA and the Department of Transport. A core concept is the idea of tackling the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’, which, according to the Department of Transport (accessed on May 17, 2010 and under review following the formation of a new government) ‘could be described as one of the greatest challenges facing the public climate change agenda.’[3] Apart doing its bit as a ‘good citizen’, the role for business seems somewhat limited within this perspective.

Yet there is an alternative. This is the frame which sees climate change as a cleantech challenge, and gives businesses a much greater role in addressing climate change. It is clear from our Environmental Choices survey data that around a third of people are deeply concerned about climate change (we have called them Climate Citizens) who would be in a latent state of tension between any personal high-carbon behaviours not being matched by low-carbon desires. As commercial market researchers, we don’t call this call an ‘attitudinal-behaviour gap’, we call this ‘unmet needs’. It is the role of businesses to identify very specific market opportunities where their technologies can satisfy these unmet needs, profitably. It is about understanding the desires of consumers and enabling a shift to lower-carbon lifestyles because they want to. This is the language of the Carbon Trust[4] as they support companies such as Ceres Power, Buccleuch BioEnergy and Oxsensis – and are looking to help the UK become a leader in the $4 trillion[5] global cleantech market.

For businesses, these ‘unmet needs caused by climate change’ should be integrated within their existing business and marketing plans. Laundry products should still be aimed at mums, micro-generation products should be aimed at dads and telepresence alternatives to flying should be aimed at business flyers.

When it comes to travel, our Environmental Choices data shows that people who are unconcerned about climate change (we have called them Sceptics & Uninvolved) tend to be quite car-orientated, and their cars tend to have relatively poor fuel-efficiency. In contrast, Climate Citizens are more likely to share their cars, use bicycles and public transport. Instead of using an ‘attitude-behaviour gap’ approach, perhaps, in collaboration with the Carbon Trust, the Department of Transport could support cleantech travel options that would appeal to Climate Citizens as early adopters (as well as use regulation to prohibit the worst existing technologies)? This could be to do with the development and marketing of electric cars and required infrastructure, or more simple business solutions to meet people’s low-carbon travel needs.

And around 15% of English people are Climate Citizens who fly at least once a year. These are people in a state of conflicted feelings – split between their views on climate change, and their current flying behaviour.  They are also relatively likely to have money to spend, since ‘frequency of flying’ is strongly correlated with income. How can telepresence be developed as an acceptable alternative to at least some flights that these people take? As of late 2008, telepresence had become more widely used in the USA than in England, and our data shows that the appeal and usage of telepresence is greater, and business flying is less, amongst Climate Citizens than other groups.

Both environmental and cleantech perspectives can have value – it rather depends what any particular initiative is trying to achieve. Yet overall, what we are arguing for is a greater cleantech focus, which should move some of the responsibility away from ‘the consumer’, and onto businesses to think creatively about providing compelling low-carbon products and services.  Let’s think less of the ‘attitude-behaviour gap’, and more about understanding these ‘unmet needs’ and developing relevant business solutions.


[1] From text originally written by the CBI Climate Change Board at the following URL: http://climatechange.cbi.org.uk/cbi-climate-change-board/

[2] See DEFRA model in appendix 2 of NESTA report (2008), p.51, 52 – http://www.nesta.org.uk/selling-sustainability-report/

[3] http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/climatechange/areviewofpublicattitudestocl5731?page=4

[4] http://www.carbontrust.co.uk/emerging-technologies/Pages/full-length-video.aspx

[5] http://www.backbonemag.com/Magazine/2010-06/cleantech.aspx



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