U.S. consumers may talk the green talk, but do they walk the green walk? Not yet. Although nearly two-thirds of Americans want to protect the environment, less than one-third actually do. According to the latest Survey of the American Consumers, less than half as many American adults (31%) purchase green products than those who say that protecting the environment is very important (65%). Today we have many more green choices than five years ago, yet old habits are hard to break. Every day we choose between paper or plastic, organic versus non-organic foods, turning off non-essential lights or leaving them on, recycling or filling landfills and many other options. So what would it take to DWYSYWD (Do What You Say You Would Do) and walk the green walk?
If you poll your colleagues or neighborhood friends, you’re likely to find a similar list of green products they purchased during the last 12 months as the Survey of the American Consumers Survey list show below:
Yet why would so few Americans (31%) purchase any type of environmentally-friendly products even though the vast majority believes it’s the right thing to do?
1) There’s No Price Parity for Green Products: Nearly all of us would choose a green product if it were offered at the same price as a non-green product. However, in the same survey, only 52% of adults are willing to pay a premium for green products and agreed with the statement: “I am willing to pay more for a product that is environmentally safe.” Different package sizes make it difficult to calculate if a non-organic product unit cost is on par with the unit cost of an organic product without having a math wizard by your side. Even if store price labels provide unit costs on the shelf, you often need a magnifying glass to determine if one unit price is better than another.
2) It Takes More Time and Effort to Identify Green Products: Without a resident chemist and speed reader in every store, it takes a lot of time to understand the difference between green products and non-green products. For example, there are subtle yet important distinctions for recycled packaging: some use mixes of 10%, 50% or 100% of recycled contents. In addition, even if a product’s manufacturer may claim that its main (active) ingredients are environmentally safe, there may be other potentially toxic chemicals (inactive ingredients like dyes) that could harm the environment. So when consumers choose green products, they choose the brands and messaging that are easier to understand. Marketing pundits know that each consumer takes only a few seconds to make a purchasing decision based more on package design rather than on product features.
3) Green Brands Don’t Always Lead to Green Products: In a separate survey published by Cone Communications, 56% of consumers don’t believe companies’ green claims. 80% of Americans don’t believe manufacturers are addressing all of the environmental impacts of a product. As many as 77% of shoppers would boycott a product if they ever discovered that certain green claims were false or misleading. Because consumers have become more environmentally savvy, they’re starting to focus on companies that make green products rather than branding them as green. The Law of Authenticity will drive companies to ensure that they close the gap between perception and reality. Organizations like Triple Pundit will continue to influence the market forces in favor of green consumers so companies improve their products to meet the three key green value propositions: people, planet, and profit.
Despite these reasons for citing light green consumer behavior, we can take some simple advice from an African proverb: each one, teach one. All consumers who walk the green walk have a responsibility to teach their friends and neighbors the merits of being green. As many great leaders have professed, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” The best long-term changes in the world have originated from individuals influencing neighborhoods, neighborhoods influencing cities, city leaders influencing state/regional leaders, state/regional leadership influencing a country and coalitions of countries improving the world for a greener planet. Now is the time for green consumers to DWYSYWD and each one, teach one.
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© 2012 by Ed Valdez. All rights reserved.
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