Sustainable Living: Bridging the Gap Between Consumers and Decision-Makers

05 June 2024

Guest Blog 

Saroja Sundaram, Executive Director at Citizen Consumer and Civic Action Group (CAG), leads efforts in consumer protection, focusing on research, consumer counselling, and policy engagement. 

In a world increasingly focused on sustainability, understanding consumer motivations is paramount. Despite widespread support for green initiatives, there remains a gap between intention and action. To bridge this gap, it's important to understand the needs, desires, and pain points of consumers who want to live more sustainably. Through targeted interventions and collaborative efforts, we can empower consumers to embrace sustainable living. Here I’m going to explain some of the motivations driving consumers today and share how important support, incentives, and infrastructure will be in helping to promote a more sustainable future for everyone. 

Understanding Consumer Motivations 

I was honoured to contribute to a 2023 report on global consumer archetypes conducted by Consumers International and GlobeScan. This corroborated with existing research on consumer enthusiasm for sustainability – of the 30,000 consumers surveyed 94% support the green economy. The report identified four key consumer segments based on their sustainability views, actions, and willingness to adopt technology solutions: 

  • Conscious Consumers: this group is highly aware of sustainability issues and actively participate in sustainable actions. They have a sense of personal responsibility to make a difference.
  • Seekers: are driven by the latest styles and trends. They make some sustainable choices and are open to new technologies that can aid sustainable consumption.
  • Supporters: back sustainability initiatives and take certain sustainable actions that are part of the social norm, but are less proactive.
  • Savers: motivated by cost-saving opportunities linked to sustainable living. Open to sustainable choices that offer financial benefits.


Targeting Different Customer Segments


Our research found that conscious consumers feel empowered when they think their sustainable actions, along with those of others, are making an impact. To encourage this, consumer groups are playing a helpful role. Not only do their initiatives extend to technological innovations, advice, and political advocacy but around the world they run awareness campaigns and showcase the consumers making a difference in their communities.  

As a conscious consumer myself, I'm constantly inspired by the actions of those around me. Seeing initiatives like waste segregation and composting implemented in my office immediately prompted me to do the same at home. The fact that such actions are encouraged in professional settings begs the question of why this can’t be extended to households too, with support from public bodies. 

Seekers, on the other hand, were found to be more materialistic. This group responds best to incentives and the benefits of green living. As they’re more likely to live in urban areas, in such instances, city planners could focus on including more green spaces, proper ventilation and efficient public transport. At CAG, we have developed a Handy Manual for Home Builders catering to this segment. The purpose of the manual is to impart holistic knowledge on building homes using sustainable techniques. It includes information on passive design, construction materials, energy efficiency, water management, green vegetation and more. You can view the booklet here. 

The cost-of-living crisis has placed more people into the consumer category of Savers. In fact, 87% of consumers say they feel the impacts of rising costs. To support these individuals, businesses and governments must ensure sustainable products and services are cost-effective and widely available. Large investments in sustainable living must be made. If businesses want to promote electric vehicles, for example, then they need to guarantee these are sold at an affordable price and that the charging infrastructure is readily available. Alternatively, if we want consumers to move towards renewable energy, governments need to make sure it’s affordable. 

Bringing Consumers into the Discussion

More broadly, effective interventions require us to involve consumers in the conversation. Without considering consumer needs, interventions are likely to miss the mark and fail to make a positive impact. We have guidelines, such as the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection (UNGCP), available to understand consumers legitimate needs. These can be used by government as a framework for developing robust legislation to protect consumers. In India, many governments such as the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Department of Telecommunications, the Bureau of Indian Standards, engage with consumer organisations. They use the Consumer Protection Act which mentions six rights of consumers.  

A practical example of how these are implemented includes the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). TRAI have issued several consumer-friendly regulations by involving registered consumer groups in their discussions. By bringing consumers in from the outset, these regulations were able to cover a wide range of consumer issues such as consumer grievance redress, unsolicited commercial communications, penalties for unauthorised value-added services and more.

We all have a role to play in the marketplace. The responsibility, however, lies on decision-makers across governments and businesses to take the lead and lay out a path where the sustainable choice becomes the easy choice. They need to equip consumers with affordable and accessible alternatives, coupled with robust public infrastructure, if we want to see a real change.