Thinkpiece: The Irrational Quest


Introducing our latest thinkpiece! This new research provides a playbook for brands wanting to inspire sustainable behaviour change


The quest to encourage consumers to take on sustainable products and services began a long time ago, but mainstream adoption has been slow – many sustainable products have come and gone for reasons unknown… until now!

Using Ignition, our sprint-based approach to innovation, to engage consumers and industry experts, we uncovered that the traditional approach of promoting sustainability through rational arguments doesn’t align with mainstream consumer decision-making.

Therefore, our latest thinkpiece centres on the need for brands to reframe sustainability as an emotional (irrational) choice for consumers, to truly engage and change behaviour. It uncovers the need for brands to step up and be the hero for consumers in the sustainability story – specifically touching on three distinct hero ‘personas’ that brands can adopt and learn from in order to tap into this emotional, irrational mindset.

Sustainability is a notoriously tricky topic to research with consumers as they have a tendency to overclaim their interest and involvement. This ‘environmental correctness’ takes over as they want to be seen to be doing ‘good’/being ‘good’ amongst their peers. To combat this ‘environmental correctness’ and capture rich, honest insights from consumers in the UK and US, we used our bespoke approach to innovation; Ignition.


The Big Picture held a sprint workshop as part of the research, which brought consumers together with experts from the worlds of design and sustainability; including industry heavy weights, such as Unilever; who are currently leading the way in the sustainability arena.

The sprint workshop produced disruptive ideas across two core categories; household cleaning and on-the-go drinks. Self cleaning floors, wearable hydration sachets and washing up without water were some of the ideas generated by the cross functional teams. As well as idea generation, the research also focused on exploring real life case studies with consumers in the UK and US, such as LOOP, Lush naked shower gel, Alpro Edible Takeaway packaging. The results showcase best (and worst) in class real life examples throughout.

Overall, the creative, innovation sprint-led research approach, allowed us to uncover the sustainable reality for consumers and shed light on their current perceptions…which were very revealing.


One key finding from the research is that consumers in the UK and US are more worried than ever about climate change…but this fear doesn’t always breed action! In fact, we found that for most it actually has the opposite effect ­– consumers feel paralysed by the negative news and sheer scale of the task at hand, resulting in apathy. Therefore, brands have an integral role to play in empowering consumers by showing them the positive impact their small actions can have as part of the larger sustainability story.

Chris Aukett, Director at The Big Picture and lead on the project, said:

“We’ve been researching sustainability with our partners for years but only now are we seeing a real shift in consumer opinion – it’s gone from the niche concern of a few to an emotionally-charged subject in the mainstream.

Consumers are waking up to the impact of their grab-and-go lifestyles… but there is still a disconnect when it comes to behaviour. When researching this, we knew that traditional research risked solely tapping into consumers’ ‘environmental correctness’ – overclaiming what they’d be willing to sacrifice. In a shopper mindset it’s too easy to choose the cheaper, more convenient option than opt for something sustainable (with bigger long-term positives associated).

Our latest study highlights how brands can reframe sustainability and change that behaviour by making it a deeply emotional (irrational) choice for the consumer. There is an opportunity for brands to be the hero consumers are looking for, helping them make an impact rather than feeling helpless: we’ve identified three hero personas brands can embody to achieve this”

The three hero personas Chris mentions touch on a range of strategies and themes; from the role of social badging in driving sustainability initiatives, to disrupting the status quo and the power of punishment, not reward, schemes.

The entire study is available by contacting The Big Picture on +44 (0)20 7928 1377 or by emailing Tess at

Extracts from the piece will be presented at Food Matters Live in London in November.