Marketing and Comms
Influencing the Influencers:
How to Unlock Mass Adoption of Sustainable Products

We must not only create products that address environmental impact without compromising consumer experience, but also help consumers understand that they don’t compromise when they embrace more sustainable products. How? By influencing our industry’s influencers.

Earlier this year, we finally hit the tipping point for mass adoption of electric vehicles, according to Bloomberg — which says the 5 percent threshold “signals the start of mass EV adoption, the period when technological preferences rapidly flip.” While to many people this number may seem low, this is a huge leap forward for an industry that has long been designing for a consumer base that has opted for “gas-guzzling” SUVs and trucks over more fuel-efficient alternatives. And while this is partially due to consumers becoming more conscious of their personal contribution to climate change, it is also in many ways thanks to automobile manufacturers embracing the move toward lower emissions and away from fossil fuels to produce environmentally friendly alternatives that are well built, beautifully designed and manageably priced. In other words, people who want to purchase an electric vehicle can do so at multiple price points, in various styles, and without sacrificing form and function.

The shift to EVs is not only good news for the planet; it also provides important lessons about what it takes to influence consumer behavior and the role that the entire value chain — from manufacturers to the end users and everyone in between — plays in moving the needle to mass adoption of more sustainable products.

Urbanization has already put intense pressure on our cities; yet in less than 30 years, nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas. That’s close to 7 billion people who will rely on brands to meet their current and future needs in the spaces they inhabit each day. It’s our responsibility to not only design and develop products that address environmental impact without compromising consumer experience, but also to work with stakeholders in our value chain to help consumers understand that they don’t have to compromise when they embrace environmentally friendly products.

L-R: Yasemin Kologlu, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill; Kimberley Petredis, FXCollaborative; Caleb Anderson, Drake|Anderson and Laura Kohler at Kohler’s “Responsibility of Design” Climate Week event at the Kohler Experience Center in NYC | Image credit: Kohler

How do we do this? By influencing the influencers in our industries. As a manufacturer of kitchen and bath plumbing products, Kohler’s influencers — the way we reach many of our end consumers — are architects and designers. Kohler has initiated an education and advocacy program called "The Responsibility of Design" — where company leaders meet with designers on a regular basis to better understand changing consumer expectations and how, as a global manufacturer, the company can meet these demands. Here are three takeaways from these conversations:

  • Label products with validated environment claims: Think of them as nutrition labels for products. Manufacturers can use Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) labels to show how a product was manufactured, what materials it contains and where the materials came from; and Declare labels to report on product ingredients and use a simple color code system to flag chemicals of concern. At Kohler, we have committed to full product transparency through our partnership with the International Living Future Institute — which organizes the Living Products 50 coalition of leading manufacturers working to ensure that healthy, high-performing building materials with full material transparency are the rule, not the exception.

  • Offer products at multiple price points: More environmentally friendly products need to be for everyone, not just the privileged few. We need to ensure that people on a tight budget looking for a toilet for their new home have quality options to choose from; and same goes for the developers who only want top-of-the-line products for their luxury apartment complexes. We are pushing ourselves at Kohler to manufacture products across the socioeconomic spectrum.

  • Use inclusive language and visuals: The language of sustainability is complex and can be alienating, with many words having different meanings for different people. Sustainability experts may have a deep understanding of the intricacies of how and why a certain product is better for the environment, but the average consumer does not. If we want to shift the way they purchase, we must provide a clear explanation of the product benefits and how they connect to issues that affect their daily life. If we can better articulate to consumers how their choices can have a positive impact while also benefitting them personally, we can speed up adoption.

In many ways, unlocking mass adoption comes to how we communicate about our products to all of our stakeholders and alert them to our sustainability efforts. The influencers in our industries cannot recommend environmentally friendly products that they don’t know exist and likely will not recommend them if they don’t understand why and how they are better than other versions on the market.

The good news is that consumers are looking for brands to show leadership. A Deloitte study found that 55 percent of consumers want brands to create awareness around problems such as climate change and 58 percent want organizations to change their practices. It’s up to us to continue to push for and invest in innovation and embrace cutting-edge solutions to truly delight and deliver for our customers so that they don’t have to choose between sustainability and style.

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