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Consumers Not So Fast To ‘Go Green’

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, August 16, 2007

Yankelovich has a new study out related to the “green” issue. Here is how they pitch it:

A quick search on Nexis for keyword “green” returns more than 3,000 results. Perhaps no industry feels the effects of “Green-mania” more than food and beverage.

The organic food movement has spawned a $23 billion industry that includes everything from gallons of milk to bags of potato chips. Tabloids abound with photos of celebrities frequenting the new shopping hotspot: Whole Foods markets.

Given this unwavering focus by the media, government and business, consumers must be “going green” in droves, right? WRONG. According to a new Yankelovich study, while consumers are highly aware of environmental issues, “going green” in their everyday life is simply not a big concern or high priority.

The press release goes on to explain:

Despite unwavering focus by the media, government and business, “going green” is only of moderate concern to most consumers, according to Yankelovich research. Yankelovich’s survey of 2,763 consumers and their environmental attitudes, GOING Green, released today, found that only one-third (34%) of consumers feel much more concerned about environmental issues today than a year ago. And less than one-quarter (22%) of consumers feel they can make a difference when it comes to the environment.

GOING Green, conducted in collaboration with Getty Images, is the first study of its kind to examine how much consumers truly care about green issues.

“Consumers are not drinking the Kool-Aid when it comes to green,” said J. Walker Smith, president of Yankelovich. “While they’re highly aware of environmental issues due to the glut of media attention, the simple fact is that “going green” in their everyday life is simply not a big concern or a high priority.”

Take Al Gore’s book, An Inconvenient Truth. Even though it received widespread acclaim from media and scientists alike, 82% of consumers neither saw the film nor read it. In addition, Mr. Smith asserts that consumers are far more knowledgeable about green than they’re generally given credit for. For example, Al Gore’s “10 Myths” in An Inconvenient Truth are not considered myths by consumers at all.

According to the GOING Green Survey: only 7% of consumers believe Gore’s “Myth” that it’s already too late to do something about climate change; only 4% believe global warming is a good thing, and only 8% agree that the warming that scientists are recording is just the effect of cities trapping heat rather than anything to do with greenhouse gases.”

Now here is where it gets interesting. One might think that when confronted with research showing that something is not a big motivator for consumers, one would advise companies to press other buttons in order to sell their products. That is not where Yankelovich comes out. First they point out the niche opportunity:

Despite most consumers’ lukewarm attitudes about “going green,” Smith says that companies can — and should — exploit the “greenness” of their products. Why? First, while the environment is not a mainstream consumer concern, it does represent a niche opportunity in the marketplace, with just over 30 million Americans (13% of the 234 million people 16+) “strongly concerned” about it.

Then, they basically say to use marketing in an attempt to make a virtue out of a necessity:

Second — and equally important — if organizations are required to meet strict federal and state environmental regulations — often at huge expense — it makes sense to try and leverage the ‘new and improved’ green product to consumers.

The “good news” is that consumer attitudes can be changed:

The good news for companies is that while the majority of consumers’ attitudes towards the environment may be only of moderate concern, it is possible to change consumers’ behavior so that the green attributes of a product become a key feature in the buying decision.

“Where companies are currently falling short with their green marketing strategy is that they’re failing to establish a personal connection with the consumer, in other words, consumers currently have no knowledge of what green means or has to offer to them,” added Smith. The Yankelovich Marketing Action Framework below illustrates the degree to which all consumers — from “Green-less” to “Green-Enthusiasts” — are currently likely to buy a product based on its green features.


“To make a green marketing strategy successful, organizations must employ behavioral tactics that move consumers up the continuum to greater levels of ‘green-ness’,” said Smith. “Marketers who focus on these segments in isolation will not change consumers’ green behavior.”

It is astonishing advice. At no point does Yankelovich make a substantive point that consumer concern over “green” issues is inadequate for the threat faced. The company seems to propose that regardless of the reality or unreality of consumer perception, marketers should induce concern — panic would be even more effective — so that consumers can be brought “up the continuum” from ‘Green-less’ to ‘Green-thusiasts’.

Why should marketers do this? Well, once consumers are panicked, they will buy a lot of “green” products and vendors can make a lot of money.

It is attitudes like this — saying anything legal to sell the product — that gives business and businesspeople a bad name.

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