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  • Writer's pictureJulie de Vaan

Stimulating sustainable choices: 3 important insights and advice

Updated: Aug 11, 2022

A lot of organizations want to become more sustainable, but do not really know how. One of the major challenges here is behavioural change. Investing in sustainable innovations only is not a guarantee for success. Usually, you also have to change consumer behaviour to really make an impact.

Stimulating sustainable behaviour is complex. But here are three important insights to keep in mind if you want to stimulate sustainable choices:

1: Make sure that people feel responsible for sustainability

When making sustainable choices, we see that a sense of responsibility plays an important role. More than, for example, when making healthy choices. That's because sustainability doesn't just apply to ourselves, but to everyone. This makes it easier for us to shift responsibility onto others. Especially when we feel like we can't make that much of an impact ourselves. Or if we feel that we have to put in more effort or give up more ourselves than others.

It is therefore important to activate consumer's sense of responsibility. Especially at the moment that they have to make a decision. How? For example, if you want to encourage people to make sustainable investments:

1: Emphasize why it is so important that the target group makes sustainable choices. For example, through altercasting or by emphasizing certain (social) roles.

  • “Invest sustainably for a better future” (focused on young people), or “…for a better future for you and your children” (focused on parents).

2: Make sure that people feel likt they can really make an impact. For example by providing feedback about (individual) results.

  • ​Provide insight into the sustainable return on investment (like, for example, ASN Bank has been doing recently).

3: Give people a say in things and increase ownership. For example, by giving them influence or choices.

  • Let people choose which sustainability topics and aspects they find important and give them the opportunity to invest in that.

4: Emphasize which measures/actions others are already (under-)taking, and which role/responsibility remains for the target group.

  • “You choose to invest sustainable, we ensure the best returns for yourself and for the world.”

2: Ensure that (the perception of) sustainable products meet the needs of the consumer

When people think that a product is sustainable, it sometimes make them think that the quality is less. This is because people (often unconsciously) think that if a product scores high on one aspect, it automatically scores low on another. This increases the chance that people will eventually opt for less sustainable options, especially if they are specifically looking for high-quality products.

There are some things you can do to prevent this:

  • Do not necessarily emphasize the sustainability aspect of the product, but emphasize features that are leading in the choices most people make (such as quality). You can point out that products are also sustainable, for example to help people who are specifically looking for more sustainable choices. But do so less explicitly to avoid scaring others off.

  • Increase the (perception of) sustainability of your brand or organization, instead of the (perception of) sustainability of your product. A good and sustainable reputation of your brand or organization does not make people (unconsciously) think that your product is of lower quality. In fact, it rather creates a spill-over effect and leads to a more positive view of the product.

  • If this is not an option or does not work for you, then choose to activate sustainability values ​​in the target group. For example, by emphasizing how important sustainability is and why the target group should make more sustainable choices at the moment of purchase. As a result, the sustainability of the product becomes the deciding factor instead of its quality.

3: Guide people in making (the most) sustainable choices

Many people want to make sustainable choices, but do not really know what the most sustainable choices are. In general, people find it difficult to delve into this and to make the most sustainable decisions. This is partly due to the increase of sustainability innovations and developments. It makes people feel like they are losing control of making the most sustainable choice. In addition, it can lead to indifference and a lack of trust and interest in (new) sustainable options.

It therefore helps to carefully guide people in making more sustainable choices. Make it very clear and concrete what is expected of them, and why. This way you help them make the most sustainable choices, and you prevent people from becoming overwhelmed and ultimately wanting nothing to do with sustainability.

For example, guide people in making the most sustainable choice in the fruit and vegetable department in the supermarket, as 'Milieu Centraal' previously did with the online fruit and vegetable calendar*. Indicate what you expect from consumers when making their choice. For example like this:

Behaviour & behavioural change - Stimulating sustainable choices - Fruit and vegetable calendar

Or help people make an alternative, more sustainable choice, as The Netherlands Nutrition Center also does for healthier choices with their food swaps. For example: “In the fall and winter, try to replace sweet potato with pumpkin. Just as tasty, but more sustainable."

*Milieu Centraal indicates that their fruit and vegetable calendar has been taken offline, because it is too much work for them to keep it up-to-date. However, if you want to encourage more sustainable choices as a producer, supplier or seller, it is necessary to know how sustainable the choices you offer are. Therefore, make sure you delve into this, and set up guidelines or rules of thumb for the consumer based on that. Provide insight into this and ensure that this information is available when people have to make a choice. Only that way, can you expect consumers to be able to make more sustainable choices.


Encouraging people to make more sustainable choices can be challenging. It is important to ensure that:

  • People feel responsible for making sustainable choices. Therefore, give people the feeling that they have a say and that they can make an impact.

  • The perception of sustainable choices is in line with what consumers consider important. Is that quality? Emphasize quality in particular, and communicate less explicitly about sustainability. Do you want to emphasize sustainability? Make sure that people actually consider sustainability important at the time they make their choice.

  • It is clear which choices are the most sustainable choices and why. Therefore, guide people well in the decision process.

Behaviour & behavioural change - Stimulating sustainable choices - Insights & advice
This is the Behavioural Map for sustainable choices, in which the 3 important insights are highlighted.

As can be seen in the Behavioural Map, there are many other ways in which (sustainable) choices are made and influenced. Would you like to get more insight into making and stimulating sustainable choices? Please feel free to contact us, for example using the form below. We are happy to tell you more.

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