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Can companies nudge us to be greener?

Posted by Lara Kelly on 18th January 2022

Companies that venture into the world of environmentalism face an uphill battle — and rightly so. We’ve all seen the Twitter storms that follow poorly thought-out campaigns pushing green credentials and often felt the frustration ourselves.

But campaigns that ask us to change our own habits are often the most likely to get the greenwashing label. Greta Thunberg infamously called out Shell in 2020 for its poll asking Twitter followers ‘What are you willing to change to help reduce emissions?’.

A fossil fuel company calling on us to change our habits rings with hypocrisy. Do other companies have a role to play in nudging us to be greener?

From greenwashing to green nudging

Google certainly thinks so. In 2020, the brand committed to helping one billion people make new sustainable choices by 2022, and with the target year reached, progress has been made.

Google’s aim is to encourage eco-conscious choices through nudging users on its search engine. In the US, Google Maps has launched a feature that allows users to choose between the most fuel efficient and the fastest route. It plans to expand this service to Europe this year.

Carbon emissions will also be available on Google Flights and you’ll be able to rank carbon intensive products like dishwashers on their sustainability in the Shopping tab.

A push in the right direction

But will these changes really make a difference? A UN Environment report Consuming Differently, Consuming Sustainably calls on policy makers to leverage the power of behavioural science for the good of the planet. This is because green nudging has been shown to work, even with small interventions.

A University of Ghent study carried out with Belgian supermarket chain Colruyt found that vegetarian spreads placed close to meat options were more likely to catch the eye of flexitarians – causing a doubling in veggie spread sales. Who knew that a bit of nudging could make hummus even more delicious?

If it works in the supermarket, will it work with the hundreds of decisions we make online?

Google’s new features will not change our habits on their own. Structural changes are needed to tackle the climate and nature crises – which needs much more than saving a few pounds on petrol on your morning commute.

But given that we spend on average a third of our waking time on mobile apps, nudges like these could be impactful. Gentle reminders could bridge the gap between our eco-friendly intentions and our actions.

At Wildfire, we are committed to making a positive difference when it comes to our clients, community, and our environment. Find out about our fifth value, Do Good, here.


Lara Kelly