“Man, Living Green Is Kinda Tough”

The title speaks for itself. If such a thought has ever crossed your mind, you’re not alone. But let’s start at the crux.

The fact of the matter is this: in a twist of irony, Singapore was crowned the world champion of plastic water bottle consumption in March this year.

It’s an odd reality, especially since we have crystal-clear, perfectly drinkable tap water. We also have a game-changing initiative by the National Environment Agency (NEA) such as the Beverage Container Return Scheme, which is supposed to empower Singaporeans to adopt an eco-conscious lifestyle by offering a hassle-free way to recycle used plastic drink bottles and aluminium cans.

The initiative aligns with Singapore’s commitment to reducing waste, cutting carbon emissions, and extending the lifespan of Semakau Landfill—our nation’s only landfill. It operates alongside existing recycling initiatives, aiming to increase the recycling rate of beverage containers, reduce waste disposal, and raise awareness about the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s a multifaceted approach that not only benefits the environment but also encourages good recycling practices among consumers.

It’s supposed to be a community-driven solution. Proposed by a Recycle Right Citizens’ Workgroup, the scheme underwent extensive development with input from stakeholders. Public consultations, a REACH paper, and a Stakeholder Group ensured that the scheme resonated with Singaporeans.

But the issue at hand is actually more complex than merely recycling water bottles. Despite initiatives like the Beverage Container Return Scheme, there’s still a gap in understanding recyclability among Singaporeans, leading to the rise of ‘Recycle Bin Rage.’ In a report by the Straits Times, as much as 40% of the waste found in recycling bins cannot even be recycled. This raises an underlying concern: sustainability efforts can only be as successful as the community’s engagement and active contribution to them.

Why Branding has the Power to Do Good

As Singapore endeavours to revolutionise waste management, the role of branding becomes pivotal.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises the significant role of behaviour change in addressing climate change. In fact, 40-70% of emissions cuts are expected to stem from individuals changing their habits – a monumental challenge that marketers can’t afford to overlook.

“But Sustainable = Expensive!”

Enter the tricky territory of sustainable alternatives. Studies show that people often think these alternatives come with downsides, whether it’s about the price, how well they work, or the taste. This propagates the false belief that being eco-friendly means having to spend more. In an economic climate where the cheaper option is the preferred option, this poses a dilemma among consumers.

The sustainability effort appears fraught when saving money starts to factor into the bigger picture. Brands unintentionally make this perception worse by not being clear in their messages about sustainability, which just adds to the beliefs people already have.

There is a psychological solution to this sustainability dilemma: brands must align their sustainability communications with consumers’ selfish interests. What does this mean? Essentially, for a sustainable choice to be embraced, it must benefit both the individual and the planet.

Make it matter to the consumer. Make it a personal choice.

For the masses to adopt sustainable purchasing behaviour, the message needs to resonate on a personal level. Brands can’t solely rely on altruism; they must meet consumers where they are, especially amid a cost-of-living crisis and economic constraints.

“Selfish” sustainability: a blend of selfishness and altruism

If brands can convincingly convey that sustainable choices enhance personal benefits – be it in taste, efficacy, or overall experience – the path to mass adoption becomes much smoother.

Appealing to people’s selfish side doesn’t mean ignoring altruism; it’s about creating a balance. As we strive for a sustainable future, marketers have a unique opportunity to appeal to both the planet-loving and self-centric sides of consumers.

Getting the messaging right holds the key. If consumers perceive a personal benefit, such as enhanced quality, taste, or overall experience, linked to the brand’s sustainability efforts, they may be more willing to accept and even support price increases and sustainable initiatives. It’s a win-win situation for both the brand and the planet.

ABrandADay’s #CycleForChange campaign serves as an example of this: by appealing to the self-interests of individuals in the fitness and cycling community, our client-partner Senoko Energy garnered engagement and active support for their #TakeCharge campaign.

Singapore’s move towards a sustainable revolution and the evolving landscape of consumer behaviour underscores the transformative power of branding. It’s not just about the earth-friendly packaging; it’s about making every move, every purchase, a choice that benefits both the individual and the planet.

However, the responsibility of creating a sustainable tomorrow doesn’t solely rest on individuals’ shoulders. Expecting consumers alone to save the planet is unrealistic when major industries, conglomerates, and corporations persist in unsustainable practices. Like the gap explored in this article, there needs to be a harmonious balance for effective change.

With the best intentions for our planet at heart, the path forward may require a sprinkle of selfish appeal. If marketers can seamlessly blend sustainability with personal benefits, we may find ourselves on a collective path towards a more eco-conscious and satisfying future.

*This article is the first part of a two-part series. Stay tuned for the next instalment in December!

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