Why mums will save the world

Most seasoned marketer know that mothers are the ‘gate-keeper’ of the household; controlling 80% of UK domestic spending, making most of the important family decisions around food, money, housing, and in all likelihood driving the main financial decisions in the home by 2020. The maintenance and upkeep of the family and home are, quite literally, in her hands. Yet fewer people know how important mums may be to the future of society and the planet.

Running a household is no easy feat, but faced with more pressing challenges, collectively known as sustainability—like climate change, water shortages, resource scarcity, poverty and inequality—mum’s may prove even more crucial to our development, growth and survival. A big ask for even the broadest of mum’s shoulders; here’s why

Mum to the Rescue

Women in general feature quite prominently as a key audience for delivering sustainable development. They tend to be greener and more responsible in their attitudes and buying habits. Studies of consumption trends in developed countries find that women are more likely than men to buy recyclable, eco-labeled, energy-efficient and Fair Trade products. In Europe and particularly in Scandinavia, women recycle, eat organic foods and purchase green goods at higher rates than their male counterparts. Interestingly, the term ‘sustainability’ itself is seen as more feminine, than masculine by 82% of a US survey respondents, and the same survey notes that women ‘lean green’ while men ‘lean anti-green’.

Similarly, development and poverty goals such as the UN’s Millennium Development Goals target mothers and women, through goals aimed to: ‘promote gender equality and empower women (MDG #3)’, ‘reduce child mortality (#4)’, and ‘improve maternal health (#5)’. Microloans financiers, like the Grameen Bank, focus chiefly on empowering women and mothers ‘to help them fight poverty, stay profitable and financially sound’, as investors believe mum’s to be more trustworthy with their families’ money. Put simply, women and mothers seem to care more.

The Future Generation

Is this nature or nurture at work here; are mum’s hardwired to care for people and planet, or is there some life-changing act that flicks their responsibility switch?

One recent study, exploring life’s critical ‘Moments of Change’, asked if there are crucial times when people are better receivers of big changes like those required for sustainable living. It highlighted ‘leaving home, retiring, moving home and having a first child’ as important life changing events that could dramatically trigger shifts in attitude or behaviour. Behavioural economics supports this, through what are termed ‘Transition Zones’: critical life phases to engage people on behaviour change around things like climate change. Starting a new relationship, for instance, is a great time to get people to stop smoking, or change their diet and eat more healthily.

These transition zones—particular first time pregnancy and motherhood—are a crucial opportunity to engage women in greener and more ethical living. Many soon-to-be or recent mothers report thinking about the future world their child will inherit for the first time. They really do begin considering how to ‘provide for future generations’ in an alignment of motherhood and sustainability.

So it’s easy to see why motherhood could be one of our great-green-hopes; the perfect time and place for marketers to partner with mum’s on better-world building.

World-Changing Brands

In case this sounds overly ambitious or worthy many mainstream brands have woken-up and started to work with mum’s in just these ways. For instance:

Pampers taps into mother empathy and responsibility through it’s cause promotion partnership with UNICEF to ‘care for babies around the world’. A percentage of pack purchases is donated to the vaccination of a newborn child against life threatening tetanus in developing countries.

Positioned as good for kids tummies (healthy), good for each others (socially responsible) and good for our planet (green), Ella’s Kitchen are working hard on the recycling of their babyfood pouches, which mums invariably add to their child’s lunchbox, through an innovative partnership with Terracycle and collected through UK schools. They also support an impoverished Children’s Home in Zambia, where Ella’s dad grew up!

Lifebuoy’s quite amazing ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign targets the two million children dying each year of preventable infections like diarrhoea, by training new mothers to improve basic sanitation and hand cleaning.

Tilda’s ‘Mum Helping Mum’ program uses a buy-one-give-one to-other-mum’s model, partnering with the World Food Program to donate a meal to poor and pregnant women

Mums the Word

This isn’t just sycophantic mum worshipping or closet feminism, this is a hard-nosed commercial opportunity AND a global imperative. Targeting mothers on social and environmental responsibility can provide a powerful platform to engage them on issues they genuinely care about, and they will reward brands that do this. Nine-out-of-ten mum’s say they want to buy products that support a cause, so we’re convinced this goes beyond babycare alone.

A mother’s in-built ability and commitment to build a better future for generations to come, only confirms what we’ve probably always known: mum really does have the power to save the world.

About the Author


Chris Sherwin is Head of Sustainability at Seymourpowell, London. Chris has 20 years of experience in the sustainability field, specialising in connecting environmental and social responsibility with innovation, product and packaging design and marketing.