Making the Shift to Selling Sustainability

We must be disruptive. We’re talking about waking people up to automatic behaviors.” – Susan Shelton

It’s about time. Marketers of sustainable products and companies concerned about promoting sustainability are finally catching on that it’s going to take more than logical explanations to make people change. If we’re going to succeed in getting consumers to switch to greener choices, we’re going to have to make a switch of our own – from selling sustainable products and services to selling sustainability itself.

The difference is profound. Without a gut-level understanding of sustainable systems, consumers are unlikely to be swayed by claims that a product is “green” or better for the earth. “Eco-friendly” may be a tie-breaker, but it’s not going to get swarms of people to buy – at least as long as their conventionally-developed worldview remains unshaken and intact.

At some point in their lives, however, some people undergo a shift in sensibilites. Their entire understanding of what it means to live and consume on this planet changes such as to make it almost painful to choose non-sustainable options. They’ve “bought” sustainability.

Selling sustainability demands more than just presenting people with “reasons why.” It requires them to make a fundamental shift, which is never easy. It’s a tricky thing, because you really need to push people out of their comfort zone – but not so far as to make them shut down and shut you out.

If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching Susan Shelton’s recent presentation at the 2012 Sustainable Brands conference. She describes how her company, The Shelton Group, teamed with several leading manufacturers of water-saving devices to create a public service campaign aimed at reducing water usage amongst consumers. The results were both entertaining and successful. Check it out!

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