How do people behave sustainably in the future?

As we know today, climate change is man-made. The question of how we behave therefore determines our future and that of our planet. When market researchers categorize people’s behavior, they develop so-called personas. Personas also exist to describe people who behave in a sustainable way. However, we don’t trust any market research unless it has been done or verified by ourselves. That’s why we have examined common personas (named Hannah, Tom, Dori and Ulrike) from the Sustainable Living 2020 study in more detail. For verification we have set up our own questionnaire, which we have offered you here and which is still active: If you still want to find out to which sustainability type you might belong, you can answer our questionnaire here. Our four persona types are described at the end of the assessment, to which we have also added  aspects of a critique that is important to us. Nevertheless, we use the mental model of the personas as Encouraged Revolutionists, Caring Humanists, Strict Visionaries and. Solitary Realists to consider a relevant size of people that could lead us out of the self-made (man- made) dilemma. Namely, we also want to know the size of the group of people with leadership qualities that provide us with sustainable behavior as a role model. Let’s take a look at our review first:

As expected, our persona types differ from the four originals. It turned out that the demographic data does not necessarily match the described types and that people live differently than they claim they want to live.

We found that among 10 respondents, there is just 1 encouraged revolutionist and 1 strict visionaries Another 5 respondents behave like solitary realists (this behavior pattern is by far the most common) and the remaining 3 like caring humanists.

If we imagine that in our society there are 10% revolutionists and 10% visionaries with real leadership qualities who support entrepreneurs in leading them into a sustainable economy, and we also imagine that 80% (especially employees) support the activities of the visionaries out of caring, then perhaps there would be a chance to ensure long-term survival on this planet for us. Unfortunately, however, we conducted the survey in the environment of people who are already acting sustainably and therefore we now have to classify this statement correctly at the corporate level.

We take a figure from the Council for Sustainability’s report (Germany) from this year. This tells us that not even 0.13% of companies act sustainably. More than 3 million companies are simply NOT behaving sustainably. On this basis, we can assume that currently only about 1.120 company leaders in Germany are driving sustainability as world savers or world improvers and display real “leadership qualities”. Is that enough? Can these 1.120 people motivate around 3 million other corporate leaders in Germany to become more sustainable?

We think so, because in answering the question of how people will behave sustainably in the future, answers can be found in the present: The four personas show how sustainable behavior is already being lived today and they reveal the character traits exhibited by Homo Circularis. Homo Circularis provides answers #Homo Circularis – Thinking Circular to how people will behave sustainably in the future if the transformation to the circular utopia of a Circular Economy and a Circular Society succeeds.

This gives reason for hope! If more people behave like Homo Circularis, we can write the behavioral history of the future ourselves and survive. And we have to do that, because climate change is the existentially threatening. If we do not learn from this knowledge to behave differently, then there will be no future for humans on this planet.

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Presentation of the personas and critique:

Hannah, 24 years old, student: (age and profession fictitiously added by us)

In terms of sustainability type, Hannah is a “encouraged revolutionist”. This group of sustainability people belongs to generations Y and Z. Encouraged Revolutionists are therefore born between 1980 and 2012. They consciously follow different values than the generations before them.

For a large part of this segment, it is true that they prefer to live in the city, have a low income, enjoy a medium to high education, are single and have no children. Most of the encouraged revolutionist are female.

In the morning, they like to listen to music via various streaming services. During the day, they use online press on their smartphones and social media in between. In the evening, they watch series and documentaries via streaming services. They tend to watch conventional TV less often.

83% of the encouraged revolutionists have a high affinity for vegetarian food. 81% are interested in natural cosmetics. And 91% want to avoid plastic packaging.

The most important issues for them include animal welfare, no factory farming and a clean environment. Their most important values are freedom, curiosity, solidarity, tolerance and peace.

Tom, 35 years old, engineer: (age and profession fictitiously added by us)
Tom is of the sustainability type “Caring Humanist. This group of sustainability people belongs to generations X and Y. Caring humanists are therefore born between 1965 and 1999.

For a large part of this segment, they enjoy living in both urban and rural areas, have a medium to high income, enjoy a medium to high education, are married and have children. Most of the caring humanists are male.

In the morning, they read the classic daily newspaper and listen to the radio. During the day, they use online press and listen to podcasts. In the evening, they watch both streaming services and traditional TV.

92% of caring humanists try to avoid microplastics. 83% use green electricity. And 77% increasingly use bicycles, public transport or car-sharing instead of driving their own cars.

Among the most important issues for them are the loving treatment of children, family peace and time with the family. Their most important values are justice and not judging hastily.

Dori, 50 years old, professor: (age and profession fictitiously added by us)
Dori’s sustainability type is “Strict Visionaries”. This group of sustainability people can be found in all generations.

For a large part of this segment, it is true that they prefer to live in the big city, have a high income, enjoy a medium to high level education, and are married or in a relationship. Many of them have children. Strict visionaries are equally distributed among men and women.

In the morning and during the day, they like to read blogs, online press and online magazines, and listen to podcasts. They tend to use traditional newspapers less frequently. They also hardly use social media at all. In the evening, they watch series and documentaries via streaming services. Traditional television does not appeal to them.

95% of strict visionaries have a high affinity for sustainably and fairly produced clothing. 87% travel less by air. And 82% pay attention to ethical and green investments made by their bank.

Among the most important issues for them are the environment and peace. Their most important values are trust and respect.

Ulrike, 67 years old, pensioner: (age and profession fictitiously added by us)
Ulrike’s sustainability type is “Solitary Realists.” This group of sustainability people is a subgroup of baby boomers. Solitary realists are therefore born between 1946 and 1964.

For a large part of this segment, they prefer to live in rural areas, have a medium income, enjoy a medium education, are married and have children. Most of the solitary realists are female.

In the morning, they read traditional daily newspapers. During the day, they use social media and occasionally online magazines. In the evening, they mainly watch conventional TV.

95% of the solitary realists try to avoid packaging, especially plastic packaging. 91% have a strong affinity for regional products. And 84% use natural cleaning products.

Among the most important issues for them are family and readiness to help others. Their most important values are honesty, tolerance and respect.

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There are two criticisms to be made of personas:

 

  1. Presenting such personas can lead to greenwashing.
    Because not every company and not every marketing agency pursues noble goals. The primary goal is to make more profit by marketing green products better, because they know how to address people who only buy green. Whether these products are then actually green, or whether only Green Buzz Words are used, which correspond to the values of these personas, is often untransparent. For the customer who wants to protect himself, the following then applies: research first, buy second. How circular consumption can work can be heard in this podcast episode. https://pod.co/gruene-wirtschaft-fuer-morgen-circular- economy/zirkulrer-konsum
  2. The method of developing personas is considered controversial in research.
    Personas involve creative latitude. Nevertheless, the description of them can be helpful. For example, when it comes to shedding light on behavioral issues. And also, to provide clarity. Personas are often created in pictures and as close to reality as possible. The persona is then given a name, clothes, a face. Our creative brain, our imagination, jumps on it. Research suddenly becomes tangible. And that is precisely why the persona method is also considered problematic for research. It is still true that research is only sexy if it virtually overtaxes the reader intellectually. If you sound smart, you seem to be smart. Today, however, “For Dummies” is the new sexy. Keep it short, simple…and stupid! Research and education are being revolutionized in a creative way. And it turns out: As simple as possible is sometimes much more difficult than complex presentations.

By Eveline Lemke and Charléne Nessel

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