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2010 Consumer Council Survey: The action gap

In early 2010, the Consumers Council of Canada did a study to answer the question: “What enhances the credibility of social responsibility claims among Canadian consumers?” It included focus groups, a web survey, and one-on-one interviews with subject experts.

The study reinforced the existence of a major gap “between consumers’ stated concerns regarding social responsibility and their everyday actions”.

In the context of this study, “social responsibility” was defined by respondents in a bunch of different ways, but it really comes down to two broad buckets of behaviours by companies: fair operating practices, and treating customers well. Even that is interesting because we generally interpret corporate social responsibility as the equivalent of cause marketing — a special activity stream for giving back, in other words — whereas the respondents to this study interpreted social responsibility be companies as behaving well in the process of doing what they do to make a profit. (our words)

The study goes on to observe that “a large number of consumers struggle with how they can connect their social responsibility concerns with their purchasing choices”. Probing more specifically, consumer cite the predictable barriers:

• Cost — 30% view the cost of social or environmentally responsible products as being a “very significant barrier” to them acting

• Time poverty — 71% of people said they don’t have time to get the information they need to make better choices

• Relevance — perhaps surprisingly, many people don’t see how their daily purchases even connect to social responsibility

• Quality — 21% cite concerns about the quality of socially responsible product alternatives as a significant barrier to choosing them

• Lack of trust in claims — 77% of people believe you can’t trust socially or environmentally responsible claims (Thanks, greenwashing.  Nice work on that one.). And 68% of people say they’re simply confused by these claims.

• Lack of access — 65% of people say they don’t have access to more socially responsible products and services

• Lack of impact — 20% of people say they don’t know whether making more considered choices will have an impact

Whew, that’s a lot of big fat barriers that help create the gap between intention and action.

Know what? People are funny. We have the ability to build such amazing mental constructs that cause us to behave the way we do. Those constructs allow us to adapt to the complexity and pace of modern life by providing us with habitual short-cuts. If we had to evaluate in-depth every decision we make every day, we’d never get through the day. We need to keep it simple.

So here’s how to do that while making a difference.  Here’s how to close the gap between intention and action. You know you want to. You know how good you’ll feel. Ask two simple questions every time you make a decision to do something:

• Is it good for me, at the expense of somebody else?

• Is it good for now, at the expense of the future?

If the answer is yes, on either score, ask yourself if you have to do what you’re about to do.  If you change just one thing each day, you’re closing the gap. If everybody on your street, or in your office,  or at your party, or with the same last name, changed just one thing each day, we’d make a difference. A difference in the lives we lead, and in the health of the planet of which we live. Just one thing.

C’mon, you can do it.

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