Exploring the Sustainability Say-Do Gap

By Duncan Smith

Mindlab partnered with Hearst magazines to explore current attitudes and ingrained beliefs in the UK around sustainability actions for the environment.

The research helped to pick apart the intricacies of the Say-Do gap where we gained an understanding of which environmental sustainability actions really matter to people, rather than what is claimed.


We presented 2,261 UK adults with a series of semi-implicit association tests to assess:

  • The factors that are most intuitively important to people, and therefore absolutely need to be delivered by brands seeking to accelerate sustainable behaviour change
  • The extent to which people intuitively associated sustainability behaviours with themselves.

We also delved deeper using AI to thematically code patterns in a large set of responses to explicitly determine people’s’ considered, self-reported opinions on the environment and the key drivers and barriers that they claim influence their behaviour.

Key findings

  • UK adults place a high value on policies which will have large scale impact, and also support the sentiment of everyone playing their part with recycling, shopping locally & repairing rather than replacing.
  • People feel that their ability to make a real positive impact on the environment is extremely limited and as a result are somewhat apathetic when faced with the knowledge that, realistically, it’s down to large corporations to make any real impact.
  • We have a limited trust in brands to do the right thing. People are less willing to pay brands more for eco options, and strongly believe that eco products and services should actually be cheaper.
  • Authenticity is key. Positive contributions that brands could make that would align with the values of the nation include providing the funding to education & awareness programs. If this is executed without PR & profit focus it could go a long way to repair trust.

You can read more on this research hand how Hearst magazines have actioned the findings on Hearst’s website.

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