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Marketing ‘cool’ life-styles key to selling clean and green products


Psychologists and human behaviorists are being enlisted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in a pioneering new initiative to save the planet.

Experts believe that the traditional messages from governments and green groups, urging the public to adopt environmentally-friendly life-styles and purchasing habitats, need to be overhauled.

There is concern that many of these messages are too ‘guilt-laden’ and disapproving and instead of ‘turning people on’ to the environment are switching them off.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said today: “ Messages from governments, exhorting people to drive their cars less or admonishing them for buying products that cause environmental damage, appear not to be working. People are simply not listening. Making people feel guilty about their life-styles and purchasing habits, is achieving only limited success”.

Indeed studies indicate that only five per cent of the public in Northern countries, are embracing so-called sustainable life-styles and sustainable consumerism.

“So we need to look again at how we enlist the public to reduce pollution and live in ways that cause minimal environmental damage. We need to make sustainable life-styles fashionable and ‘cool’ as young people might say. We also need to make it clear that there are real, personal, benefits to living in harmony with the planet, “ he said.

UNEP experts today cited campaigns by KIA, the Korean car manufacturer, and the European detergent industry, as two examples of selling positive, environmentally-friendly, consumerism and life-styles.

KIA has a campaign in the United Kingdom which urges people not to use cars for short journeys, only long distance ones. It provides a mountain bike with every new car purchased and helps organize “walking buses”. These create networks of parents who assist in escorting children to school on foot.

The European “Wash Right” campaign extols the virtues of low temperature washing by emphasizing the benefits to the clothes as well as the energy-saving made.

The turning to social scientists and behaviorists is being carried out under UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption Programme and Life Cycle Initiative which is looking at a wide range of issues, from labeling to eco-friendly product design, to deliver more environment-friendly consumption.

It compliments initiatives, some of which are being orchestrated by UNEP, to develop a network of cleaner production centres across the globe to reduce polluting manufacturing processes.

Sustainable consumption patterns, and how governments, industry and the public can play their role in delivering these, are among the key issues being discussed this week at UNEP’s 22nd Governing Council taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.

Over 50 young people from across the globe underlined the importance of the issue in a statement to ministers:” We commit to awareness raising campaigns to lifestyle change at a community level and request governments to further encourage sustainable consumption. We support the UNEP YouthXChange programme as an excellent example of work in this field”.

It provides case studies of youth organization’s that have made a real difference in achieving sustainable purchasing patterns. For example, a fashion company in Brazil, Copa Roca, have made a real hit and a profitable business out of making clothes out of re-cycled fabrics.

Jacqueline Aloisi De Larderel, Director of UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics which is spearheading the new initiative, said: “ Sustainable consumption is not about consuming less, it is about consuming differently, consuming efficiently, and having an improved quality of life. It also means sharing between the richer and the poorer”.

“This is not just an issue for so called rich countries. Many rapidly industrializing, developing countries, such as China, are keenly aware of the environmental threats posed by uncontrolled consumerism and the risks of not making products environmentally-friendly”.

She said it was no coincidence that the ministerial debate on consumption patterns, scheduled for tomorrow (Thursday) is being led by Zhenhua Xie, the Chinese Environment Minister and Borge Brende, the Norwegian Environment Minister.

Indeed China is among 52 countries, surveyed by UNEP in collaboration with Consumers International. It found that many countries are trying to promote sustainable consumption through a variety of measures including public awareness campaigns and ‘green taxes” that favor environmentally-friendly goods.

China, for example, has factored sustainable consumption into its Law on the Protection of Consumer Rights and Interests. Actions include publicity and educational programmes, ecolabelling, certification of environmentally-sound products and 30 per cent sales tax reductions for light, less polluting, vehicles.

Bas De Leeuw, Co-ordinator of UNEP’s Sustainable Consumption Programme, said they were also working with industry and businesses to make products and services more environmentally-friendly way.

He cited Kluber, a leading lubricants company based in Munchen. It has developed a mobile laboratory that visits industries to ensure their machinery is opertaing efficiently. Benefits include reductions in smoke, vibrations and noise pollution.

Allegrini in Italy, which supplies detergents, uses a mobile shop to sell direct to consumers reducing the need for term to travel by car.

The UNEP initiative is also drawing up ‘green procurement’ information material for governments and local authorities in developed and developing countries so that their big purchasing power is environmentally-sound.

“Many developing countries are keen to buy environmentally-sound products and services but do not know where to go. We are developing an information network and Internet service so that if they, say, want to buy environmentally-friendly pens or vehicles, they know where to go,” said Mr De Leeuw.

Nick Nuttall | alfa

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