Saturday, July 25, 2009

How Green are Consumers Really Willing to Be?

On Friday, I attended the event "iPods vs. the Environment: the Real Story Behind How Green American Consumers are Willing to Be" at the Alliance to Save Energy. Suzanne Shelton, of the Shelton Group, was presenting, discussing the results of the recent EcoPulse survey, the premier survey for green consumerism in the US. The Shelton Group also runs UtilityPulse, EnergyPulse, and GreenLiving Pulse.

As Suzanne (the self-described "fastest talking Southern woman you'll ever meet") said herself, there was a lot of information packed into that one hour seminar (full of graphs and focus groups), so I am going to highlight here what I found most shocking or interesting.

1) American consumers say one thing an do another. The best way to put this one is the fact that Americans are fantastic at being "armchair environmentalists." We like the government and corporate America to take action (and think that they should be the ones to make the changes), but when it comes to taking actions ourselves, we fall short.

Concerning this point, consumers were asked whether or not a company's environmental practices affect their purchases.

47% of respondents said it did.

Now the question got more specific. Consumers were asked if they have actually made such a choice based on environmental practices.

14% actually did.

Then, they were asked to name the product.

7.5% could.

Basically, consumers are, as Suzanne put it, "terrified of getting screwed." With all of the greenwashing going on in the media, consumers don't know what to do, and the default ends up being to do nothing.

Another highlight from this first section of the presentation was the question about motivation, i.e. what is the best motivation for energy efficiency. Saving money was, not shockingly, the top motivation this year; however, what I found interesting was that back in 2005, "promoting energy independence and protecting the domestic economy" was number one. This motivator went from 35.7% to 4% over the past few years. Interesting how much economics and geopolitics shape our motivators, huh?

2) Consumers know less about green than you think.

Just as we had our armchair environmentalists before, we now have our "cocktail green" here; in other words, most consumers only know enough about sustainability issues to get by a cocktail party conversation.

Some (sad) surprises here:

a) Only about 53 percent of consumers could provide a feature of a green home. (The vast majority named solar panels as a characteristic.)

b) When asked what label was the best to read (100% natural, natural, organic, bio-engineered, etc.), 100% natural (which has no regulation at all to it) beat organic.

c) 61.3 percent of consumers did not think that they used more electricity than they did five years ago.

d) 40 percent can't name an example of renewable energy.

3) Skepticism

In this section, Suzanne outlined The Shelton Group's market segmentation. They break the market down into four groups although other firms may break it down anywhere from 12 to 66.

8.9 % Skeptics: Those that react adversely to any mention of green, environment, sustainability, etc and that tend to deny climate change has any correlation to man's behavior.

Most common demographic: White, CEO-level, Republican males (for whom it is easier to deny the issues than to make any changes)

24.5% Activists: Obviously, this section has its fair share of tree huggers, but it also has more mainstream consumers--often well-educated people who know the issues and act upon them.

Most common demographic: Baby boomers, who with the kids now grown and gone have time to revisit old values or spend some more time and money on their personal health and well-being

33.1% Distracteds: These are the people who tend to see themselves as too busy to focus on the issue; they may be confused or apathetic.

33.6 % Wannabes: These are the people who like the idea of green behavior and may have the thoughts, but when it comes to the actions, they aren't there.

Most common demographic: Generation Y (Our generation), who are sometimes the first to speak up about the issues but, when it comes time to make the purchase, refuse to sacrifice money (because they may not have it yet)

The photo was taken from through Google Images.

1 comment:

  1. Although the survey was conducted for business, it works the same way for advocacy work: we both need to sway people to share our values. So, in looking ahead to the fall, I think that these are the most important aspects of any campus campaign:
    1) Educate, educate, educate. Most people probably have a limited knowledge of the issue. Try to get good speakers or interesting topics, co-sponsor events with other groups to boost attendance, and work with the faculty. Carbon footprints, organic food, and renewable energy---many know the names, but few can explain them.
    2) The money factor does not work on a college campus: If you live on campus, you aren’t paying a utility bill, so financial reasons won’t fly.
    3) Know the audience. What are some popular values or interests on campus, and how can we connect with them?
    a. Basketball & school spirit
    b. Cultural & religious identity and diversity
    c. Politics
    d. Social justice/community service
    Sustainability can be linked to all of these (As environmentalists, interconnectedness should come as no surprises to us), and it is up to us to show people how and why.