Aspirational consumers, the new approach to the sustainable equation

“Focusing on the greenest consumers to drive sustainable change will never work” [1]

So far, it seems that companies have been looking in the wrong place. People that were thought to be the most committed with environmental and social issues, and thus, behaved consistently – the “green consumers” -, were the ones targeted in sustainable marketing and branding.

For more than ten years, companies thought that, if green consumers’ motivations were widely understood, those ones would be able to influence the culture, grow the size of engaged people, and have an impact on what is sold in the marketplace. However, the “consume less, recycle more and think about the long-term impacts” messages don’t seem to have altered the citizens’ decision-making.

The 2014 Aspirational Consumer Index [2] shows that green consumers make up 21% of the market, a similar average across countries and, what is more, numbers have kept constant, whichever conditions in the last years. This means that this target group hasn’t normalised a sustainable behaviour in society and this is insufficient for companies.

As Chris Coulter (co-CEO of GlobeScan) says, there has been a chicken and egg phenomenon. “On the one hand, companies have been waiting for people to speak to them”, which has occurred in a very niched way, “and on the other hand, consumers have been waiting for companies to engage them.” [3]

The research of consumers’ intrinsic motivations and desires, and its matching with a certain life-style, has been decisive to find a new approach to the sustainable equation. This is where “aspirationals consumers” come in to the picture.

These urban, brand aware and status conscious youngsters represent the 38% of population on average and are expected to increase[2]. Aspirationals are pro-consumption and do influence others: they like spending money, they care of what the others think of them, and want to attract others to follow their lead. However, what makes this group even more attractive is that environmental and social responsibility do matter to them too.

So, for the first time there are two very important matchings: internally, between sustainability and marketing, and externally, with a group of consumers who goes for sustainability and materialism at the same time.

Such matching, is a new and crucial phenomena marking a milestone in the difficult relation between marketing and sustainability functions, giving way to a win-win situation where the two can be equally maximized.

The opportunity for a bigger change

According to Meet the Aspirationals, this new segment of the population live with a moral dilemma: 93% of the aspirationals state that shopping for new things excites them, a percentage that is maintained for those ones who believe that society needs to consume less in order to preserve the environment [4]. This clash of ideals between pre-consumption and resource depletion of modern globalization is where the companies’ challenges and opportunities are.

Besides that, companies have to bear in mind that sustainability as such, will be integrated, if not yet, into the fabric of our lives. This consciousness will be reflected in everything we do, we see, we experience… Our culture, music, design and art are also a part of the gears leading us towards the sustainable direction we are already facing.[5]

This broader understanding of sustainability together with the aspirationals’ discovery set a clear momentum for companies. These ones should not only re-formulate quality, functionality and design, but also take it a step further by integrating sustainability deeper into the firm’s strategy and thus, lead the trend.

The time has arrived for existing and future companies to start re-thinking and re-typing their product and services standards towards sustainable leadership as there is an “incredible opportunity to do well and accelerate social change by innovating to promote sustainable consumption. Aspirational consumers demand it.” [5]

[1] Bemporad R. in “Interview: Raphael Bemporad on how to make sustainability cool”, The Guardian [online]. [Accessed Feb 2015].

[2] “Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Samsung, Tata, Unilever and Nestlé Top List of World’s Most Responsible Companies – A new global study shows Aspirational consumers looking to engage with purposeful brands” (2014), GlobeScan [online]. [Accessed: Feb 2015]

[3] “Chris Coulter Introduces the Aspirationals” (2014), GlobeScan [online]. [Accessed: Feb 2015]

[4] Meet the Aspirationals, [Accessed: Feb 2015]

[5] SHFT – The culture’s of today’s environment (2015), [Accessed: Feb 2015]

[6] Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer (co-founders SHFT) in Meet the Aspirationals, [Accessed: Feb 2015].

Chynoweth C. (2014), “”. The Guardian [online]. Available from: [Accessed Feb 2015].

Kho Jo Confino J., Post R. (2014), “Sustainable Brands in San Diego – as it happened”. The Guardian [online]. Available from: [Accessed Feb 2015].


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