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Behavior Change
New Research from Tide, WWF Reveals Keys to Sustainable Behavior Change

Tide and WWF believe the new insights gathered from their work together on laundry are applicable for all brands seeking to partner with consumers to reduce environmental impacts.

In 2022, Tide and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) joined forces to advance the science behind sustainable consumer behavior change — via a research project undertaken as part of an ongoing collaborative effort to make washing laundry in cold water the next broadly adopted eco-habit, as an important step to reduce consumer greenhouse gas emissions. Tide and WWF believe the new insights gathered from their work together on laundry are applicable for all brands seeking to partner with consumers to create positive environmental impact. Their goal is to educate people and establish washing laundry in cold water as the accepted social norm.

Tide and WWF engaged behavioral-science consultancy Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) to undertake a comprehensive review of existing published research and case studies on sustainable habits, including relevant consumer tests from Tide parent company Procter & Gamble (P&G) and best practices in climate change impact from WWF.

As brands and organizations increasingly seek to unlock habit change to enable widescale positive environmental benefits, the findings from the Tide/WWF project identified the importance of applying behavioral frameworks and systems thinking, such as:

  • Enabling new consumer habits by creating the capability to act either physically or psychologically, the opportunity to act via cues or feelings of social acceptance, and the motivation to act through alignment with intrinsic values or delivery of extrinsic rewards; and

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    Introducing interventions that are ideally a combination of easy (requires minimal effort), attractive (offers worthwhile incentives), social (makes one feel part of a group) and timely (uses relevant moments and offers a clear timeline for benefits).

“For brands like Tide and many others, consumer use often makes up a significant portion of a product’s carbon footprint,” said Marty Spitzer, senior director of climate and renewable energy at WWF. “We’ve seen how small actions can add up to big impact, especially when addressing the use phase. Sharing these research findings and related cold-water case study will provide useful insights and guidance for all brands and consumers taking on the behavior change journey.”

Tide’s work with WWF builds on its 2021 partnership with the NFL on the #TurnToCold campaign, in which 15 NFL teams helped rally fans to switch to cold-water washing.

“When Tide set a goal for 3 out of 4 washes to be done on cold by 2030, we knew we’d need partners to help us drive the change,” said Todd Cline, Senior Director of Sustainability, North America Fabric Care at P&G. “Within the first year of setting our cold-water ambition, we advanced a quarter of the way toward our goal — a promising signal that consumers were interested in making this shift. Now, we’ve used the proven frameworks that emerged from our work with WWF and BIT to inform all our #TurnToCold wash efforts across the business and to identify several key levers we’ll aim to pull at once to move consumers further into action.”

Through the program, Tide says it developed an “ecosystem” to advance the habit of washing laundry on cold. The map focuses on increasing enablers and reducing barriers — such as encouraging cold as the default setting on washing machines, introducing disruptions at the point of laundry and helping make cold-water washing a social norm through continued brand marketing campaigns.

Washing in cold saves up to 90 percent of the energy in every wash cycle^1^ and can save US households up to $150 a year. Tide estimates that a decade of US households washing the majority (3 in 4) of their loads in cold would save enough electricity to power all of New York City and San Francisco for over a year — that’s the equivalent of 27 million metric tons of GHG emissions^2^ or nearly ten times that of P&G’s global yearly operations.^3^

Efforts to drive the shift to cold-water washing were advanced by the 2021 announcement of Tide’s 2030 Ambition — a set of broad-reaching sustainability commitments as part of Tide’s ongoing journey to decarbonize laundry, including a goal to cut GHG emissions by half in brand’s manufacturing plants by 2030.

Click here to review the full Tide/WWF report.

1 On average, when switching from hot to cold water

2 Over the decade, 2020-2030

3 As outlined in P&G’s Climate Action Transition Plan