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What Drives Consumers’ Green Behavior Throughout the Product Life Cycle?

A few weeks ago I wrote part one of this series titled, What drives consumers’ green behavior and how does it affect purchase decisions? and in that installment I explained how TOMS and Warby Parker have connected with customers at the purchase phase of consumption by going beyond a linear product offering. They’ve done so by means of connecting their products (shoes and eyewear) to environmental causes that people are passionate about at the point of purchase. However, the purchase phase is not the only spot in the product life cycle for brands to make the environmental connection, the point of disposal is also a powerful touch point for brands to be involved.

Customers can only be aware of what they can see.

The impetus for this series stemmed from a 2009 research project Communispace did with Continuum: Colorblind: Talking to Consumers About the Environment.

There is a truth that came out of the Colorblind research and that is, ‘Consumers are only aware of what they can see.’ As we already learned, brands can effectively position themselves in the product life cycle by making the green offering visible at the point of purchase. However, with brands being the source of ‘stuff’ (clothes, electronics etc…) wouldn’t it make sense for them to show up when the ‘stuff’ runs out? Marks & Spencer must have asked that very question because they are helping drive green behavior at the point of disposal.

The environment and our impact upon it tend to be abstract ideas.

Marks & Spencer is a leading British retailer that specializes in apparel as well as grocery. In 2008 the retailer teamed up with Oxfam, a global non-profit organization, to create Clothes Exchange. With Clothes Exchange, shoppers simply bring in their used and/or unwanted Marks & Spencer apparel back to the store and exchange it for a Marks & Spencer gift card.

We’ve all had those spring cleaning weekends where we end up with two bags of unwanted clothing and make a trip to Goodwill while telling ourselves, “surely someone who needs this will get it.” We intend to ‘do good’ but our actual impact is never really obvious. With the Marks & Spencer/Oxfam partnership the ambiguity is removed; shoppers are not only aware that their donated clothing will be recycled but they are shown exactly how it will be used to make an impact on the life of someone in need. For example, this web app allows consumers to see how a skirt that cashes in for a £5 gift card could help buy a water container for four families in Niger.

Clothes Exchange is smart in that it educates shoppers at the point of purchase about the opportunities to make a tangible impact at the point of disposal. Once purchased, the shopper goes about wearing the new threads while feeling good about their investment because they know when the time comes to play their part in recycling they will also be rewarded. The gift card spurs more shopping for replacement clothing and starts the whole process over again. Marks & Spencer has simply allowed the consumer to visibly see how their actions can ‘do good’ by pairing passion for apparel with the desire to give to the greater good.

When consumers can see how their purchase decisions make a positive impact on others and/or the environment brands open the door for creating products with dual utility. By pairing passion for the greater good with brands that people love the opportunities are truly endless.

See how Clothes Exchange works here:


Colorblind: Talking to Consumers About the Environment is a groundbreaking cross-industry study of the “green” attitudes and behaviors of consumers across the country, assessing not just what they say they want, but what they actually do, and providing actionable insights for business in general as well as specific industry verticals. Download the study for free.


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