Building brands in a changing society

When the retail shelf dictates the health of the planet

CFL light bulb

Despite good intentions, many consumers continue to buy products that have a negative impact on the environment, like incandescent light bulbs. That’s why Ikea’s move to become the first North American retailer to eliminate incandescent bulbs from its shelves is good news in the fight against climate change.

As of January, 2011, Ikea replaced incandescent bulbs with the compact fluorescent bulbs (CFL) that use 80% less energy and can last 6 – 8 times longer. This is ahead of American and Canadian legislation that phases out sales of incandescent lights from all retailers by 2012.

Ikea’s move and the upcoming legislation point to the importance of what’s on the retail shelf in shaping consumer behavior and, ultimately, the health of the planet.

The barriers of comfort and convenience

While North American consumers have both the knowledge and tools to make more environmentally friendly product choices, our penchant for comfort and convenience routinely get in the way.

CFL bulbs are understood to last longer, reduce energy bills and are widely available…but they cost more than conventional bulbs, cast a cooler light and can’t be disposed of in household trash due to their mercury content.

And yet lighting is the low-hanging fruit of energy conservation. Worldwide, the energy used for lighting homes and businesses is responsible for 19% of total end use electrical consumption and for 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions, as reported by en.lighten, a United Nations initiative promoting energy-efficient lighting.

In fact, en.lighten estimates that a complete transition to efficient lighting in the US would drive a reduction in electricity consumption equivalent to shutting 26 coal-fired power plants. And the associated reduction in CO2 emissions would be equal to taking 11 million cars off the road. For Canada, the same shift would correspond to 2 coal-fired plants and 250,000 cars.

Make it easy for consumers

The upshot is that consumers need pro-environmental choices to be made easy for them. That’s why fighting climate change requires not just informed, empowered consumers but also the active involvement two other key stakeholders: government and business.

This is the “triptych of change agents,” as dubbed by Dr. Joseph Stanislaw, Deloitte energy advisor and author of the white paper “Climate Changes Everything.”

Governments enact regulations – like the US Energy Independence and Security Act requiring that light bulbs use 30 percent less energy – that limit the shopping choices of millions of consumers to energy-efficient products. Progressive retailers like Ikea implement those policies early, propagating a social good and positioning their brand as environmentally responsible.

With government and business doing their part to ensure the retail shelves are lined with energy-efficient products, consumers will have no option but to make more sustainable choices.


4 Responses to “When the retail shelf dictates the health of the planet”

  1. Dan B

    I don’t think you can even buy incandescent light bulbs in the UK anymore, they phased them out a few years ago.

    Consumers shop with their wallet, so I don’t think people will be willing to spend the cash on a greener product until greener products are more affordable. It’s a shame, but that’s just how it is!

    • Stephanie Myers

      Hi Dan,

      It looks like North America is finally catching up with the UK on that point!

      Yes, it’s true that price has a strong influence on the uptake of green products. Hopefully prices will lower as green products move from niche to mainstream.


  2. Molly C

    Stephanie, thanks for this great post.

    It’s true – we do shop with our wallets, and the total cost of a product is often not embedded in its price.
    But we also choose to buy other intangible things, like status, nostalgia and style. I wonder at how the indicator of ‘green’ can be made a stronger force in decision making, and also the ways in which it can hinder those same choices.

    • Stephanie Myers

      Hi Molly,

      A great point — many purchase decisions depend on more complex factors than just price or performance. If green marketing can tap into status and style triggers, perhaps more green products will gain traction in the marketplace.



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