Changing consumer attitudes in a changing climate

By Gabrielle Stannus

Dr Lilly Lim-Camacho from CSIRO gives us her expert advice on how to engage with consumers in the face of a changing climate.

Scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that human-induced climate change is upon us. Concentrations of all the major long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase, with carbon dioxide (CO 2) concentrations rising above 400 ppm since 2016 and the CO 2 equivalent (CO 2-e) of all greenhouse gases reaching 500 ppm for the first time in at least 800,000 years1. Emissions from fossil fuels continue to increase and are the main contributor to the observed growth in atmospheric CO21.

Using this data, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and CSIRO project that Australia is likely to experience:

  • Further increases in sea and air temperatures, with more hot days and marine heatwaves, and fewer cool extremes.
  • Further sea level rise and ocean acidification.
  • Decreases in rainfall across southern Australia with more time in drought, but an increase in intense heavy rainfall throughout Australia.1
Given this scenario, how do we create a sustainable greenlife industry? How should greenlife businesses respond in terms of their product range? What do we know about consumers and their attitudes in relation to climate? How can this help us to market new products developed in response to climate change?

Dr Lilly Lim-Camacho
One person who may help the greenlife industry answer these questions is Dr Lilly Lim-Camacho, Research Group Leader at CSIRO Agriculture and Food. Lilly is a value chain scientist, focused on supporting industry in an era of global change, through applied systems approaches. However, firstly Lilly has some questions for both growers and retailers.

What can greenlife businesses do?
“What is the greenlife industry going to look like in twenty years’ time? Is the product range that the industry is focusing on now going to be tenable for the future? And how long do you expect a new product to be surviving at the market?” asks Lilly.

“The breeding process to get a new plant out on the market takes quite a long time,” says Lilly, adding that growers need to start planning new products now that can withstand a changing climate, if they have not already done so.

“We know some of the native species that you would have seen in the past in a certain space, you would not plant in that space now because they are not going to survive there for the next fifty years. Do you want to see a landscape that is either back to its original state or one that will survive towards the future?” asks Lilly. She says that growers and other greenlife industry businesses need to bring products to the market that will enable consumers to continue to grow their gardens, albeit under changing climatic conditions.

Lilly also says that retailers will need to play their role in helping consumers adapt to climate change. One important role for retailers is in managing the expectations of consumers, who may no longer be able to plant the plants that their parents or grandparents grew. Instead retailers need to work with the rest of the greenlife supply chain to better market those plants that will work in a changed climate. But how to message this to consumers?

Sceptic or Eco-Warrior?
In social research carried out by Lilly and CSIRO colleagues in 2014, a segmentation analysis was performed on survey respondents in order to identify differences between consumer perceptions and attitudes towards climate adaptation.

“What we found was that there are five different types of mindsets around climate change and climate adaptation, ranging from Sceptics all the way through to what we call Eco-Warriors,” Lilly explains, “If you think of those five segments, they are all people that you need to bring along on different pathways. However, what we tend to do when we communicate is that we assume that a single message is going to work.”

“We also looked at what these people valued in their day to day life. Underpinning the commonality is health and cost of living; the environment comes in and out,” says Lilly, “The Sceptics do not really care so much about the environment, but they do care about water resources. If you want to talk to Sceptics about the environment, talk about the drought. If you want to talk to the Eco-Warriors about the environment, talk to them about climate change.”

“If you want to get to a Sceptic, you can talk about the cost of living, the cost of energy, you can talk about how their health could be compromised along the way,” says Lilly, “Or we can talk about family, grandchildren, all these sorts of things. However, do not go down a sanctimonious path or at the other end of the scale, you can go down the emotive path. However, you do not want to be worrying them. You want to equip them with what to do. Because worry can paralyse action.”

Find out more at the Healthy Plants, Healthy People conference
Consumer behaviour is adapting to climate change. Find out how.
To find out more about how consumer behaviour is adapting to climate change, make sure you do not miss Lilly’s presentation at the Healthy Plants, Healthy People conference in Perth in March. Lilly will demonstrate practical approaches for engaging with different people around this sensitive, yet very important topic. She will also deliver a session for those greenlife industry businesses wanting to stay abreast of social sustainability opportunities and obligations.

Which Plant Where?
In addition, Leigh Staas from the Which Plant Where? program will be speaking and running an engagement session at the conference. Which Plant Where? is a five-year series of research that comes under Horticulture Innovation Australia’s Green Cities co-investment fund. This research will find out where current favourites are unlikely to thrive under the more extreme climates that Australian cities face, learn from past successes, and stress-test major landscape species to find opportunities for new species and varieties to be planted.

1. Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO 2018, State of the Climate 2018, viewed 16 December 2019,
2. Lim-Camacho, L, Ariyawardana, A, Lewis, G & Crimp, S 2014, Climate adaptation: What it means for Australian consumers, Consumer Survey - 2014 results. CSIRO, Australia. EP148832 ISBN 978-1-4863-0512-4