Encouraging behaviour change

Inspiring people to adopt new behaviours is central to our Plan.

Why is behaviour change important to us?

Creating a sustainable future will require fundamental changes in attitudes and behaviours across society. Governments and industry will have to change, but so too will individual citizens.

As one of the world’s leading consumer goods companies, Unilever is constantly researching the attitudes and needs of people all around the world. Our expertise in marketing as well as sustainability means that we can make a real contribution to inspiring and enabling consumers to adopt more sustainable habits and products.

Behaviour change is fundamental to achieving the goals set out in the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan. Over two-thirds of our greenhouse gas impacts and 85% of our water footprint is associated with consumer use. Tackling impacts across the whole lifecycle of our products means that we have to understand and influence consumer behaviours.

Unilever’s products touch the lives of over 2 billion people every day. That means that if we can inspire people to take small everyday actions, it can add up to a big difference.

What have we learnt?

We have learnt that marketing and market research can be powerful forces for behaviour change. Many of our brands have run campaigns to raise awareness and encourage changes in behaviours.

For example, for many years we have been trying to encourage people to wash their hands with soap at the right times of day in order to reduce disease; to brush their teeth twice a day for the most effective protection against tooth decay; and to eat margarine instead of butter for good heart health.

More recently, Comfort One Rinse has sought to encourage people to use less water when rinsing clothes; and Domestos is changing sanitation habits, helping people to access a clean, safe toilet.

Unilever’s Five Levers for Change

We published our approach for the first time in November 2011. Unilever’s Five Levers for Change is a practical tool that has been developed from our most effective behaviour change campaigns. It is a coherent set of principles, which, if applied consistently to behaviour change interventions, will increase the likelihood of having a lasting impact.

We revisit what we know about consumers and systematically identify:

  • Barriers – what are the things that stop people from adopting a new behaviour?
  • Triggers – how could we get people to start a new behaviour?
  • Motivators – what are the ways to help them stick with the new behaviour?

Next, we apply the Unilever Five Levers for Change:

  • Make it understood. Do people know about the behaviour? Do they believe it’s relevant to them? This lever raises awareness and encourages acceptance.
  • Make it easy. Do people know what to do and feel confident doing it? Can they see it fitting into their lives? This lever establishes convenience and confidence.
  • Make it desirable. Will doing this new behaviour fit with their actual or aspirational self-image? Does it fit with how they relate to others or want to? This lever is about ‘self and society’ because humans are social animals.
  • Make it rewarding. Do people know when they’re doing the behaviour ‘right’? Do they get some sort of reward for doing it? This lever demonstrates the proof and payoff.
  • Make it a habit. Once people have made a change, what can we do to help them keep doing it? This lever is about reinforcing and reminding.

The future

We made public Unilever’s Five Levers for Change as we believe that there are wider benefits from sharing our work with others. We’ve learnt a great deal through our health and hygiene campaigns, and we know that there is potential for this approach to be applied even further in the environmental field – such as helping consumers use less water, emit less greenhouse gases and produce less waste.

We are now looking to apply our expertise on behaviour change to new challenges across the business. We are working with authorities in the field to ensure that we are connected to the latest behavioural change thinking and practice.

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