Going green still not so easy for consumers, but barriers to further uptake are clear...

In an extract of his speech titled, "Victoria's Challenge, go green but stay in the black" presented at the 2009 VECCI summit at Parliament House, Melbourne, ceo of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Wayne Kayler-Thomson, posed the following question:

 "...beyond the state-wide implications of the need to move to greater use of renewable energy sources, how do we adapt to the need to incorporate environmental awareness at an individual and organisational level?"

For many in the community, this adaptation is already underway, with ongoing Mobium tracking showing increasing purchases of sustainable products, with sustainably harvested timber, recycled products, organic and natural foods and beverages, solar hot water systems, rainwater collection tanks and many other categories continuing their strong growth.

In responding to Kayler-Thomson's question for a consumer perspective, its useful to look at the key barriers to greater environmental awareness and action at an individual level. The most commonly stated barriers amongst many Australians are: the price of sustainable products and services relative to conventional alternatives; trust that the sustainability claims on products are genuine; information about sustainable options to enable an informed choice to be made; and real or perceived performance trade-offs involved in purchase of more sustainable options.

These four key issues came into sharp focus during one of my recent depth discussions with Australian consumers are part of Mobium's most recent Living LOHAS study. Mike, from Brunswick in Melbourne's northern suburbs, recently chose to install a solar hot water system as part of his home renovation. He also installed rainwater collection tanks to save on water usage. His motivations were partly based on his desire to limit his family's environmental impact and partly because he saw it as a worthwhile long term investment from a cost saving perspective, despite the higher upfront cost.

Having overcome the cost barrier, he needed information about what to buy. Whilst there would appear to be a plethora of general information about solar hot water available on the web, when it came to making a decision about a particular model for his requirements, finding reliable, trustworthy information became significantly more difficult.

Having found an experienced Melbourne-based solar retailer, he chose a system and had his builder install it.

Then came the performance issue. The family found when showering that the water pulsed hot and cold, and wouldn't maintain a consistent temperature. Enquiring with the manufacturer as to the reason, he was met with the astonishing claim that the system would not function correctly with the use of low flow shower heads! Infuriated, he switched the shower head back to a high-flow version and, he presto, perfect water pressure!

The irony of choosing a solar hot water system to save energy, installing a rainwater tank and low-flow shower heads to save water, and then needing to pump large amounts of extra water though the system to make it function correctly wasn't lost on him. Having to use more water and energy in every shower, so that he can save energy was not something he had expected. The experience has left him feeling jaded about investing in more sustainable products.

The fact that Mike is an environmental engineer, specialising in water and wastewater with a major global engineering firm, just serves to highlight the difficulties many consumers are facing when making more sustainable consumption choices.

Addressing the issues of Price, Information, Trust and Performance, are key steps in incorporating further uptake of environmental awareness and action at an individual level.