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The SHIFT Framework: How to Promote Sustainability to Your Customers

Businesses play a key role when it comes to sustainability. Many industries are deeply intertwined with the goals of sustainable development, and businesses are often responsible for extracting raw materials and other such actions that have huge environmental impacts. Furthermore, businesses drive economies, and in many governments around the world, they have an important voice when it comes to legislation, including that surrounding sustainability.

Businesses also have the ability to influence consumer behavior. Through marketing, businesses can elicit certain emotional responses and tap into consumers’ beliefs to make them feel a certain way about products or ideas. The advent of social media marketing has made this more true now than ever before. Social media allows companies to connect with their customers on a more personal level, offering transparency of the brand and making customers feel a connection with the company and its values.

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Although the primary goal of business is to increase profits, modern business philosophies now advocate for the triple bottom line: people, profit, and the environment. The triple bottom line addresses businesses’ responsibility to use their position in a positive manner. While profit is still important, it must only be achieved if society and sustainability are positively affected by a company’s actions.

This includes creating powerful messages that encourage consumers to make positive choices for the environment. By setting an example and educating your customers on ways that they can make sustainable choices in their daily lives, you can help achieve global sustainability goals.

But, influencing customer behavior isn’t always simple. Here’s how you can help your customers to make more sustainable choices.

The SHIFT approach to customer behavior

One well established approach to influencing customer behavior is the SHIFT framework: Social influence, Habit formation, Individual self, Feelings & cognition, and Tangibility. Each of these ideas appeal to human psychology and ways of thinking and feeling, identifying ways that people are more likely to engage in sustainable behavior as well as approaches that may actually discourage pro-environmental decisions.

Social influence

Humans are social creatures, which means that our decision-making is often guided by our peers. We care about what others think of us and what others in our circles are doing. You can appeal to your customers’ social influence by showing that others are making sustainable choices and by conveying a feeling of disapproval surrounding unsustainable choices.

Habit formation

When it comes to sustainability, we all need to change our current habits. It isn’t enough to bring a reusable bag to shop with once or twice a month; customers must make it a habit to make use of a reusable bag on a daily basis. Some ways to help consumers form habits are to create incentives, make it easy for them to make the right choice, and to enact penalties for poor sustainability practices.

Individual self

sustainable energy sources

Although humans are social creatures, we’re also self-serving. We tend to make decisions that we know will directly benefit us, and we want to feel good about it. Make sure that your customers know the ways that they will benefit from their sustainable actions. Show them their role in the sustainability issue and how their individual actions will benefit the whole. They need to see that their choices are important and how sustainability relates to them.

Feelings & cognition

As you promote sustainability, keep in mind the way that people react to negative emotions and positive emotions. Studies have shown that portraying too much guilt, fear, and sadness surrounding sustainability can actually cause people to become defensive. They may either deny that their actions have any influence or start thinking that the problems are impossible to overcome and, therefore, not worth the effort. On the flip side, positive feelings surrounding sustainability encourage customers to make more sustainable choices simply because it feels good to do so. Show customers the positive results of sustainability and how their actions will make a positive difference rather than the potential negative outcomes of inaction.


One of the issues of sustainability is that it’s often surrounded by abstraction. As scientists learn more about climate issues, sustainability goals are constantly shifting, leaving an unclear vision of the future. You must offer up a sense of tangibility so that your customers can visualize what a sustainable future looks like. Some ways to do this are to show near-future payoffs, illustrate local benefits, and identify current issues. Rather than focusing on far-off benefits or consequences, illustrate how their decisions can make an immediate impact within their own communities.

Ways to promote sustainability

How you’ll promote sustainability to your customers will depend upon your customer base. Different markets respond to promotions differently, and what works for one company might not work for another. However, it’s always helpful to have some examples when brainstorming strategies. Let’s take a look at some ways you can promote sustainability using the SHIFT framework.

Display your commitment to sustainability

happy volunteers protecting environment

How can you expect your customers to make sustainable choices if you’re not equally committed to sustainability? Customers should feel motivated by your company’s sustainable actions. You can do this by informing your customers of your sustainable choices on your website and via social media, using green imagery on your packing and branding, or pledging a certain percentage of each sale toward sustainability projects. This aligns with the social influence aspect of the SHIFT framework.

Incentivize reusable bag use

To encourage your customers to bring their own reusable bags, you can offer discounts to customers who do so. Customers will feel as though they are being rewarded for their sustainable choices, which will encourage them to do it more often. Conversely, you can penalize customers who don’t bring reusable bags by charging them for the single-use bags that you provide. Keep in mind, however, that people are typically more motivated by positive feelings rather than negative consequences. This helps customers to form the sustainable habit of bringing their own reusable bag.

Publish statistics on social media, products, or reusable bags

Show your customers how their single sustainable choice makes a big impact by publishing statistics where they are likely to be seen. For example, you might design a reusable bag that says, “This reusable bag can save up to 700 plastic bags in its lifetime.” This will help customers realize the impact that their individual choices can make. They’ll feel good about their decisions, it’ll sell the importance of their individual choices, and they’ll can feel good about the positive outcome of their sustainable choice. Publishing statistics also places a sense of tangibility to their choices, allowing them to see the immediate impact of their single decision.

Help your customers make good sustainable choices with reusable bags

Offering reusable bags and incentivizing their use is an easy way to help your customers make better sustainable choices. Single-use packaging, including plastic bags, is one of the greatest issues surrounding waste management, and reusing bags is not a difficult task for customers. They can make a positive sustainable choice that makes a different and helps them to feel good about themselves, and it won’t cause them undue inconvenience.

bkbags biobased bag

Furthermore, the bags offered through bk-bags are ethically sourced so that your customers have nothing to feel guilty about. You can also print your company’s logo or choose a design option that aligns your brand with green initiatives, showing your commitment to sustainability. Bk-bags are durable and aesthetic; your customers will love taking them anywhere for a number of uses besides shopping at your store. Not only will this help them to continue using their reusable bags, but it allows them to carry your logo everywhere they go as well. It’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for you.

Contact us to learn more about carrying bk-bags reusable bags in your store.

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