Stepping Down from the Soapbox

A few weeks into the thick of my intership with the South Carolina Aquarium, my research has morphed from focusing on the profit margins of restaurants and transitioning to sustainable seafood, to the ethics of marketing and what to consider when switching from conventional to sustainable.

It all started with a question my external supervisor poses to me when we were evaluating a menu. The restaurant boasted, “Our menus feature all fresh, local seafood…” To which my supervisor queried “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”

In and outside of class, I have witnessed many of my grad student peers fall victim to this desire to force feed their sustainable knowledge to bystanders tossing plastic in the trash, grocery patrons eying conventional produce, and drivers of SUVs (myself included). While all this is well-intended, it can easily come off as pretentious, and make the lecturer look self-important. High on their pedestal, publicly shaming their glassy-eyed subordinates. And where does this lead us? To defiance for defiance sake.

Let’s go back to the original question, “If all their seafood is sourced locally, why don’t they showcase that?”
As a marketer, consumer behavior is of my utmost interest. While some like to believe consumer behavior is predictable and easily influenced (which it can be…) it is also very often fickle and erratic. Some consumers, no matter how hard you try to educate, will choose to consume things that they know are harmful…simply because they choosing not to buy “insert thing” groups them with those who pompously lecture against consuming this thing (cigarettes are a prime example…or the opposite, vegetarian food).

So, the answer to my supervisor’s question could be to take a look at the demographic. What kind of consumer patrons this restaurant? Would they be turned off if it seems “eco-friendly, green, or environmental?” Maybe the restaurant does good under the radar, as the to not detour customers? Or, maybe they make false claims? OR, maybe there are other pieces of the business that are not so sustainable, and to highlight the one thing they do responsibly would be green washing, running a risk of being exposed?

To my sustainability peers, things are not black and white. Consider all variables, and asks tons of questions.

Hope everyone is having a great week!

– Zach

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