Plastic Fantastic?


This week, Blue Planet brought into sharp focus the harm that plastics cause to marine life.

Plastic’s bad – we know that – but as consumers, we too often bury our heads. There’s too great a disconnect between our day-to-day decisions and the longer term environmental impact. Despite globalisation bringing the world closer and widening our awareness of climate change, there’s a sizeable gap between the products we pick up in the supermarket, and the unseen processes that contribute to irreversible climate change and natural disasters on the other side of the planet. When it comes down to it, price and convenience play out as higher priorities in the decision hierarchy.

Until now, we’ve been reliant on government policy and the efforts of forward-looking FMCG companies to create change. Mainstream consumer engagement has been much slower moving – at least in the UK.

To achieve real, lasting change, we need to reach a tipping point where widespread consumer consciousness becomes the key industry driver.


The good news is that a shift in consumer attitudes is already happening, though it’s gradual. From a UK perspective, initiatives like local recycling collections and plastic bag charges are forcing awareness as they touch the day-to-day lives of adults, regardless of generation.

So, how do we accelerate consumer engagement?

For that, brands need to think about the behavioural nudges that can help us guide consumers to better decisions. Here are three principles to get started:

Make the intangible, tangible

It’s human nature to focus on the here-and-now. The immediate pain or reward of a decision is tangible, whereas the long term impact is abstract, hypothetical and intangible.

To overcome ‘present focus’ bias, think of ways to prompt consciousness at the point of decision. The UK plastic bag charge has successfully reduced bag use by 80%, because the charge is immediate and tangible.

innocent’s chain of good campaign did a great job of linking the instant reward of a great tasting, healthy drink with its positive social impact. It’s rarely possible to make people think at shelf, so make the link implicit and over time you can build positive brand associations.

Make the right choice, the easiest choice

We’re fickle beings.  Making the ‘right decision’ the path of least resistance increases chances of success. Think about it – by putting recycling bins beside landfill bins, it makes recycling an easy choice.

Just like Unilever’s compressed deodorants, brands should seek to make the right choice easy and default.

As well as making it simple – help consumers feel good for making the right choice. Even though our decisions are often ‘irrational’, and the environmental impact might not be the key driver, we like to feel we’ve made thoughtful choices. Make consumers feel good for making the right choice.  Help them visualise the positive impact they’ve had – for example, by showing them what their choice has saved from going to landfill.

Make the most of the crowd

Embrace the human tendency to follow the herd.  By drawing attention to the mainstream nature of particular behaviours, it’s possible to create a powerful crowd effect.

That’s our first go at some guiding principles.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your ideas. We’ve also put together a thinkpiece – please get in touch if you’d like to hear it.