The way to encourage adults to shop sustainably is to target their children, according to new research.
In a survey of 400 Melbourne families Victoria University researcher Dr Torgeir Watne and RMIT University's Professor Linda Brennan found older teenagers held considerable power over their parents when it came to choosing sustainable products such as organic food, chemical-free cleaning products and energy-saving light bulbs.
Dr Watne said parents largely accepted their children as experts on the subject, especially when their children were more enthusiastic about sustainability than them.
"When the family perceived the child to be knowledgeable, parents were happy to cede decision-making power on the subject to their children, in a similar way to how parents often take their children's advice on technology," Dr Watne said.
He said the results showed it was feasible to encourage children to promote the environment when it comes to their parents as long as the children are positioned as the expert, and not in the more traditional way as a marginal influence.
Dr Watne said reaching the parents through marketing to children was not new in advertising, but had not been explored in relation to sustainable behaviour change.
"As a consequence, adolescents can be the target of positive messaging about their capacity to influence the future; a welcome change from the many negative messages they are often in receipt of," he said.
The study also showed single parents were much more likely to be influenced by their children about environmentally sustainable products than two-parent families.
In two-parent families the pattern was especially strong between mothers and daughters, but much weaker between fathers and sons.
"When it comes to purchasing environmentally sustainable products, it seems evident that 'father-son' conversations do not usually occur,'' Dr Watne said.
The study entitled Behavioural change starts in the family: the role of family communication and implications for social marketing will be published in the Journal of Non-Profit and Public Sector Marketing early next year.
Dr Watne's previous research showed parents relied on their children to make decisions for them about technologically complex products "" even when the product was solely for the parents' use.