Prof. Rüdiger Hahn: That’s right, but we’re a long way from coming up with a definitive solution. It’s more a case of us identifying various clues that could help us to bridge this gap. The findings are quite varied because there can be so many different reasons for the phenomenon. Lack of belief in oneself might be one reason, for instance. Or being convinced that one person acting alone cannot achieve anything. Information and education can be used to counteract these views. Another problem is the convenience factor. If we can create new products that simplify people’s lives and they finally realize that sustainable solutions don’t necessarily mean you have to go without, that will be another important step forward.
Stefanie Fella: The spillover effect is definitely important, and it can have both negative and positive implications. A positive scenario would be, for example, if you started to cycle to work and gain several benefits from it at the same time. You’re doing something good for the environment and getting fitter at the same time. Such side effects might motivate us to transfer the behavior into other areas. There is also a negative side to this experience unfortunately. We talk about moral licensing when you start justifying your own less sustainable actions with more sustainable ones you have already done. For example, you try to compensate for the piece of meat you had for dinner by saying that you took your bike to get to work that day. As we can see, the spillover effect really goes both ways, and it always depends on what the individual person does with it and how they feel about it.
What about the industry? More and more young companies are striving to make change in society and are rethinking processes and products. How can sustainable developments be implemented in such a way that they are accepted by customers?
Stefanie Fella: We now know that companies and business models that are more sustainable tend to succeed if they target and fulfill the same customer needs as conventional models. If this is not the case, customers often don’t buy into the products. If my goal is to get from A to B and I can do that conveniently and cheaply using a ridesharing service, then I have a real alternative to my own car. I can then factor that into my future decision-making. New business models should also be relatively simple. The more challenging a new desired behavior is, the harder it is to implement. The best-case scenario is that the new solution doesn’t involve making any compromises. The more radical the change, the more difficult it is to implement.
Prof. Rüdiger Hahn: The concept of package-free stores, for example, is such a radical departure from normal shopping behavior. When you open a store like this, you quickly realize that initially the only customers will be people who are sensitive to sustainability. And that’s not the big masses. The crowds will only come when the changes become more normalized and are established at the heart of society, or if the new solution is easier than the conventional one. Therefore, you could start with a stand or a dedicated package-free corner in a supermarket to slowly build up a customer base. This approach involves trying to implement changes bit by bit first, so that people gradually begin to embrace new solutions.