April 17, 2024

Revolutionizing Recycling Education: The Power of Motivational Messaging

Motivational messaging has been integral to the sustainability movement for a long time, with the phrase “reduce, reuse and recycle” gaining popularity in the 1970s. It is debated where exactly the phrase originated from, but it gained popularity around the time the United States Congress passed the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as other trending topics amongst recycling. We have all heard the phrase, said the phrase, felt the phrase. But have we actually integrated “reduce, reuse, recycle” and other motivational messaging regarding recycling? 

United States (U.S.)  production of municipal solid waste (MSW) has only increased since the implementation of “reduce, reuse, recycle” ideations in the 70s, with the U.S. producing approximately 88 million tons of MSW in 1960, and tripling that number by 2018, amounting to 292 million tons, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

In 2024, motivational messaging was the second most-preferred method of brand messaging in a study conducted by Attest, with 41.9% of respondents choosing “make me feel motivated and inspired” when asked which brand message appealed to them most. 

However, problems with greenwashing, involving misleading brand messages regarding environmental efforts, have overshadowed the motivations behind recycling messaging amongst consumers. In a 2023 study by Harris Poll, 78% of respondents said that “companies should use more specific labels for their sustainability initiatives than the umbrella term ‘sustainability.'” Only 50% of respondents said “companies are reporting on their sustainability initiatives honestly without exaggerating their impact” and 47% said they “feel well-informed about companies’ efforts to reduce their impact on the environment due to their good communications”. 

In addition to perceptions of greenwashing, motivations on pro-environmental purchasing behavior are being studied in psychology. In 2022, a PlosOne study found that “peoples’ beliefs about why other people are performing a pro-environmental behavior is vital for the conformity to social norms.” In short, perceiving that other people perform pro-environmental behaviors due to their personality, temperament and individual characteristics increases conformity more than the perception that pro-environmental behavior being the result of situational factors. Basically, people will be more inclined to conform to “green behavior” if they believe that others’ are doing it because of who they are, and not because of what they will get from it. 

In terms of motivational messaging, according to the PlosOne study, if the message is perceived as being motivated by external factors, such as money or reputation, the receiver is less likely to conform to the behavior communicated in the message. Motivational messages regarding “eco-friendly” purchasing behaviors are most influential when focused on internal factors, such as personality and moral values. 

Therefore, the more genuine the message from a company regarding environmental efforts, the better the response from consumers. If consumers’ believe a company is motivated by their values rather than monetary gain, conformity to “eco-friendly” purchasing behaviors is psychologically likely. 

Motivational messaging is favored by consumers, but the perception of intent is crucial in behavior and conformity to pro-environmental norms. To avoid greenwashing and win the favor of consumers, businesses should be clear and well-informed about environmental impact. 

Want to learn more about sustainability? CIRT is a recycling software company that helps companies be clear in product and packaging communications as well as helping the consumer in proper disposal. CIRT uses dynamic data to help educate consumers in a user friendly way. The goal is to know where products are ending up at the end of their lifecycle and provide information on what can be recycled where. CIRT is a women-owned company and a Benefit Corporation (B Corp), focusing on environmental sustainability along with the other pillars outlined by B Corp. Visit our website to learn more: https://www.cirt.tech/