Research
A sustainable future

Decades have passed since sustainability was first raised as an issue, but progress is slow. Research by BVA BDRC shows how consumers are forcing change, and how attractions can become greener while attracting more visitors


Sustainability is very much on the public’s agenda, with 95 per cent of the UK public very or fairly concerned with at least one sustainability issue, with deforestation ranking most highly, after decades of publicity around the Amazon rainforest. The extinction of species follows, then climate change.

The issues are clear, but action has not been. The problem is that climate change has been too slow for most of us to notice – today’s grandparents probably won’t live to see the damage, though their grandchildren certainly will. Investments conventionally need to pay back in a couple of decades at most. Shareholders have no interest in watching their investments tank so as to benefit future generations.

We need different models of motivation and governance for real change to happen and the momentum is most likely to come from the consumer, who can learn to change their habits and start to impose real and lasting change on the market.

At consumer and business insight consultancy BVA BDRC we use research to make sense of consumer attitudes. Unlike many other issues – and contrary to the media narrative – environmentalism is not limited to the young, with over 55s typically more concerned with sustainability issues than any other age group. This chimes with a good deal of the research we have conducted elsewhere.

Most surveys we run with national tourist boards show older generations prioritising landscapes and scenery as a motivation for visiting – this is the case for the UK, German, US and French markets. Older age cohorts also index above average in visits to cultural and garden attractions. They are the most engaged with the natural world so it’s no surprise they’re the most likely to want to protect it.

Environmentalism is also not biased towards the political left. It is broadly non-partisan. Conservative and Labour voters score almost identically on environmental issues – with the exception of ‘climate change’ which is perhaps a more politically loaded term.

While it’s no secret that people care, there is not yet a link between sustainability and decision-making and this link is needed to persuade attractions that it’s worth making the investments needed to become more sustainable.

One of the most important outcomes of our research was to demonstrate that sustainability is not ‘one size fits all’. To make this point we developed an attitudinal sustainability segmentation based on attitudes and sustainable behaviour. The inclusion of behaviour was particularly important in separating the advocates from the virtue signallers or those who want to be sustainable but don’t know how. The five segments are:

Eco Evangelists – 16 per cent of the population: These are individuals who care deeply about the environment and regularly make sustainable choices, from recycling to reducing meat consumption, to switching energy suppliers to direct action on the streets.

How to attract to attractions: Attract through promoting depth of sustainability activity. Accreditation may be seen as greenwashing so focus on tangible achievements.

Good Intentions – 27 per cent: These people are very concerned about the environment and do what they can, but generally find it all too overwhelming. They need help from corporations or government to make sustainable choices.

How to attract to attractions: Make being sustainable easy and visible. This may include on-site recycling bins, provision of water fountains, vegan and local food in the café and plenty of sustainable produce in the shop. Accreditation may also help but this segment will best respond to actions that get visitors involved.

Accidentally Green – 19 per cent: This (mostly older male) segment is not involved with the sustainability conversation – they will actively criticise those who take direct action. However they will naturally make sustainable choices – be it through recycling and reusing, nurturing a bee friendly garden or purchasing locally grown food (sometimes growing it). Saving money is a priority for them but they also dislike waste.

How to attract to attractions: Highlight ways in which sustainable choices can save them money (e.g. discounted hot drinks with reusable cups) and draw attention to how the attraction is saving waste.

Affluent Hedonists – 27 per cent: The closest fit to a segment of ‘virtue signallers’ this audience will say they are concerned about sustainable issues, but their behaviour suggests otherwise. Nevertheless, being sustainable is good for their image, so they will make sustainable choices if it makes them look good, and will pay more for the pleasure.

How to attract to attractions: This segment will light up when being sustainable makes them look good. Attractions can achieve this in many ways, but examples include using influencers to communicate messages, utilising new/clever technology, selling fashionable/designer sustainable goods or serving locally sourced good quality vegan food in the café. The wealthiest segment, this is a good one to get.

Climate sceptics – 11 per cent: A segment opposed to the sustainability movement and not sustainable in their behaviours. How to attract: There’s very little that can be done to attract this segment, but attractions may simply want to listen to their views so they are not alienated.

Visitor attractions index especially highly in attracting the ‘eco evangelists’ and ‘good intentions’ segments, indicating the importance of them being outwardly sustainable. Our Mystery Visitor programme – which assesses attractions on a range of sustainability measures – suggests this is often not the case. The latest quarter of our Mystery Visitor research indicated that 47 per cent of visitor attractions don’t have recycling bins on site and only a third have some sort of ‘sustainability accreditation’ on view. While the accreditation can be seen as an example of greenwashing, and recycling bins won’t solve the climate crisis, the lack of both will be a source of frustration for environmentally-minded visitors.

More positively, 72 per cent of attractions sold sustainable items in their shop, and 55 per cent served vegan food in their café. But broadly speaking, the evidence suggests attractions still have some way to go.

Attitudinal segmentation based on attitudes and sustainable behaviour
Credit: Photo: ©National Trust Images/David Levenson
Polar bears made from plastic waste at the National Trust’s Sheffield Park Garden Credit: Photo: ©National Trust Images/Laurence Perry
The National Trust’s Living Green Visitor Centre educates visitors Credit: Photo: ©National Trust Images/John Millar
Attractions need to make sustainable options easy and visible for visitors Credit: Photo: ©National Trust Images/John Millar
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Attractions Management
2022 issue 2

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Leisure Management - A sustainable future

Research

A sustainable future


Decades have passed since sustainability was first raised as an issue, but progress is slow. Research by BVA BDRC shows how consumers are forcing change, and how attractions can become greener while attracting more visitors

Photo: ©National Trust Images/David Levenson
Attitudinal segmentation based on attitudes and sustainable behaviour
Photo: ©National Trust Images/David Levenson
Polar bears made from plastic waste at the National Trust’s Sheffield Park Garden Photo: ©National Trust Images/Laurence Perry
The National Trust’s Living Green Visitor Centre educates visitors Photo: ©National Trust Images/John Millar
Attractions need to make sustainable options easy and visible for visitors Photo: ©National Trust Images/John Millar

Sustainability is very much on the public’s agenda, with 95 per cent of the UK public very or fairly concerned with at least one sustainability issue, with deforestation ranking most highly, after decades of publicity around the Amazon rainforest. The extinction of species follows, then climate change.

The issues are clear, but action has not been. The problem is that climate change has been too slow for most of us to notice – today’s grandparents probably won’t live to see the damage, though their grandchildren certainly will. Investments conventionally need to pay back in a couple of decades at most. Shareholders have no interest in watching their investments tank so as to benefit future generations.

We need different models of motivation and governance for real change to happen and the momentum is most likely to come from the consumer, who can learn to change their habits and start to impose real and lasting change on the market.

At consumer and business insight consultancy BVA BDRC we use research to make sense of consumer attitudes. Unlike many other issues – and contrary to the media narrative – environmentalism is not limited to the young, with over 55s typically more concerned with sustainability issues than any other age group. This chimes with a good deal of the research we have conducted elsewhere.

Most surveys we run with national tourist boards show older generations prioritising landscapes and scenery as a motivation for visiting – this is the case for the UK, German, US and French markets. Older age cohorts also index above average in visits to cultural and garden attractions. They are the most engaged with the natural world so it’s no surprise they’re the most likely to want to protect it.

Environmentalism is also not biased towards the political left. It is broadly non-partisan. Conservative and Labour voters score almost identically on environmental issues – with the exception of ‘climate change’ which is perhaps a more politically loaded term.

While it’s no secret that people care, there is not yet a link between sustainability and decision-making and this link is needed to persuade attractions that it’s worth making the investments needed to become more sustainable.

One of the most important outcomes of our research was to demonstrate that sustainability is not ‘one size fits all’. To make this point we developed an attitudinal sustainability segmentation based on attitudes and sustainable behaviour. The inclusion of behaviour was particularly important in separating the advocates from the virtue signallers or those who want to be sustainable but don’t know how. The five segments are:

Eco Evangelists – 16 per cent of the population: These are individuals who care deeply about the environment and regularly make sustainable choices, from recycling to reducing meat consumption, to switching energy suppliers to direct action on the streets.

How to attract to attractions: Attract through promoting depth of sustainability activity. Accreditation may be seen as greenwashing so focus on tangible achievements.

Good Intentions – 27 per cent: These people are very concerned about the environment and do what they can, but generally find it all too overwhelming. They need help from corporations or government to make sustainable choices.

How to attract to attractions: Make being sustainable easy and visible. This may include on-site recycling bins, provision of water fountains, vegan and local food in the café and plenty of sustainable produce in the shop. Accreditation may also help but this segment will best respond to actions that get visitors involved.

Accidentally Green – 19 per cent: This (mostly older male) segment is not involved with the sustainability conversation – they will actively criticise those who take direct action. However they will naturally make sustainable choices – be it through recycling and reusing, nurturing a bee friendly garden or purchasing locally grown food (sometimes growing it). Saving money is a priority for them but they also dislike waste.

How to attract to attractions: Highlight ways in which sustainable choices can save them money (e.g. discounted hot drinks with reusable cups) and draw attention to how the attraction is saving waste.

Affluent Hedonists – 27 per cent: The closest fit to a segment of ‘virtue signallers’ this audience will say they are concerned about sustainable issues, but their behaviour suggests otherwise. Nevertheless, being sustainable is good for their image, so they will make sustainable choices if it makes them look good, and will pay more for the pleasure.

How to attract to attractions: This segment will light up when being sustainable makes them look good. Attractions can achieve this in many ways, but examples include using influencers to communicate messages, utilising new/clever technology, selling fashionable/designer sustainable goods or serving locally sourced good quality vegan food in the café. The wealthiest segment, this is a good one to get.

Climate sceptics – 11 per cent: A segment opposed to the sustainability movement and not sustainable in their behaviours. How to attract: There’s very little that can be done to attract this segment, but attractions may simply want to listen to their views so they are not alienated.

Visitor attractions index especially highly in attracting the ‘eco evangelists’ and ‘good intentions’ segments, indicating the importance of them being outwardly sustainable. Our Mystery Visitor programme – which assesses attractions on a range of sustainability measures – suggests this is often not the case. The latest quarter of our Mystery Visitor research indicated that 47 per cent of visitor attractions don’t have recycling bins on site and only a third have some sort of ‘sustainability accreditation’ on view. While the accreditation can be seen as an example of greenwashing, and recycling bins won’t solve the climate crisis, the lack of both will be a source of frustration for environmentally-minded visitors.

More positively, 72 per cent of attractions sold sustainable items in their shop, and 55 per cent served vegan food in their café. But broadly speaking, the evidence suggests attractions still have some way to go.


Originally published in Attractions Management 2022 issue 2

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