Buying your clothes from companies that focus on minimising their negative impacts on the environment and pushing for positive change is a great way to weave some eco-activism into your everyday life. Your money goes to companies that seek to protect the environment, and can even fund projects that help to reduce waste, divert plastics from the ocean or plant more trees.
But if you want to help bring about change, then promoting these companies is just as important as buying from them – whether that’s posting about your new purchase on social media or showing off your new sustainably-made garments to your friends. Multiple studies have shown that this kind of positive social proof can be a really good way to influence people – and much more effective than shaming people for buying from less sustainable brands.
How to win friends and influence people
If you’re passionate about stopping climate change and shopping sustainably, it can be incredibly frustrating when people you know seem not to care about causes that are so close to your heart. You’ve likely been met by an eye-roll, shrug or brush-off when you point out the evils of a company people like to shop from.
Others do seem to agree with you and share your concerns, but this doesn’t translate into their actions or shopping habits. Research carried out by Google and Basis found that while 55% of shoppers claimed sustainability was more important than value and quality, there was an “action gap” whereby their actual actions (what they purchase) showed that value (at 84%), quality (84%) and style (83%) won out over sustainability alone (59%).
Clearly, despite the best intentions, there are still significant barriers to people buying sustainable fashion.
To try and change this, it can be tempting to take the moral high ground and preach to others about the problems with the fashion industry and why they shouldn’t buy high street fashion. However, research shows that this can be counterproductive and that there are more effective ways to influence people.
People don’t like being told what to do
Maybe it’s human nature, but many of us don’t like being told what to do. We want to feel like we’re making our own decisions. We might want to do the right thing, such as shop more sustainably, but we like to think it was our idea.
This is why “eco-piety” can have the opposite effect to what’s intended. A study entitled “Don’t Tell Me What To Do”, carried out by Georgia State University, found that people became less willing to take personal actions to reduce climate change when recommended to by others. Similarly, Sarah McFarland Taylor, the author of Ecopiety: Green Media and the Dilemma of Environmental Virtue, writes that telling people to be noble and make sacrifices can have the opposite effect. Instead, she says, messaging about behavioural change should be fun and attractive, not about self-denial.
For example, people are more likely to start buying leggings made from recycled bottles because they’re from a cool brand that they’ve seen their friends wearing than because they’ve been told how bad Primark leggings are for the environment.
Of course, the problems in the fashion industry need to be addressed, but when it comes to encouraging more people to buy sustainable fashion, championing your favourite sustainable brands could be much better way of going about it.
In fact, there is another psychological phenomenon that backs this up further…
People forget information about unethical practices
Another reason why it can be better to focus on the positive not the negative is because, according to studies published in the Journal for Consumer Research, there is a psychological phenomenon whereby people are more likely to forget what they’ve heard about companies’ unethical practices and retain information about ethical practices.
If someone hears that a company has a terrible record for climate damage, there’s a decent chance that they’ll forget this information and go back to shopping there. On the other hand, if they hear information about a brand having a positive climate impact, they are more likely to remember this information and shop with them.
Rebecca Reczec, who conducted the studies, believes that this forgetfulness surrounding bad ethics is because of the conflicting desires presented by hearing said unethical information. She says that a consumer has two “selves” – a “should” self and a “want” self. The “should” self has the intention to shop sustainably, for example, but the “want” self really wants that nice new top they’ve seen from a fast fashion brand. Hearing information about a brand they like puts these two selves in conflict and evokes a negative feeling, so the brain tries to forget about it.
This comes back to the idea that a lot of people want to shop more sustainably but face certain barriers in getting there. The more that people are aware of sustainable options, the easier it is for them to put their ideals into practice, rather than carrying a sense of guilt which may deter them from making any effort at all.
Champion your favourite sustainable brands!
So there you have it: all the more reason to tag your favourite sustainable brand on Instagram, buy their products as gifts and tell people all about them. You might just help make the world a better place.