U of M to focus on consumer behavior and environment
By Stephanie Hemphill
The University of Minnesota is setting up a sustainability initiative to help businesses and government agencies learn how to encourage consumer behavior that's good for the environment.
Akshay Rao, General Mills Chair in Marketing at the Carlson School of Management, said researchers who study human behavior have something to offer any organization that wants to market earth-friendly products or actions. He's recruiting corporations and government agencies to join a consortium that would oversee research to make such marketing more successful.
Research would be conducted both at the U of M other universities.
Rao said many corporations are already interested in the idea.
"People are experimenting with little ways of changing behavior, wondering why some things work and some things don't," he said.
As an example, he cited smiley-faces that utility companies attach to their customers' bills to encourage energy conservation. Some research has shown they work to prevent high achievers from cutting back on their energy-saving efforts. But it also indicated the approach doesn't work so well with Republicans.
Rao said his goal is to find approaches that work for everyone. Besides bringing academic rigor to corporate experiments, he hopes to answer a fundamental question:
"What is it we can find that is so fundamental about human behavior that it will lead people, regardless of their ideological preferences, to act in a manner that is beneficial to the planet?"
Rao said most money for sustainability initiatives goes toward developing new technologies.
"To make sure there is a viable market for new 'green' technologies, we must understand underlying consumer beliefs and behaviors associated with the adoption and use of those technologies," he said.
Rao is aiming for an endowment of up to $10 million. So far, Wells Fargo has contributed $250,000 to the project.