Monday-Morning Environmentalists: Marketers Need To Be Green And Proud

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by Sarah Mahoney

WHILE EARTH DAY PROBABLY SOUNDS so
last week to many marketers, it would be a big mistake to let talking
about environmental efforts slide until next spring: Consumers want
them to wear green on their corporate sleeves. New research from Cone,
the Boston-based cause-related marketing agency, finds that not only
are consumers demanding more from companies in terms of corporate
responsibility, they wish companies would talk about it more.

In its survey, 45% of respondents say that advertising is their
favorite way to learn about a company’s corporate responsibility and
environmental policy, beating out methods that include Web sites and
packaging. That’s an increase from 41% in 2004.

In addition, they are overwhelmingly looking to companies to act: 93%
of Americans believe companies have a responsibility to help preserve
the environment. "Companies ultimately need to engage consumers and
effectively communicate the impact their business practices and
products have on the environment," the agency says. "Consumers are
listening."

The survey also found that while 32% of Americans say they are more
interested in environmental issues than they were a year ago, it’s
still difficult for them to pay the additional costs these products
often demand. For example, while 85% of those surveyed said they’d
consider switching products or services if they learned about a
company’s negative corporate responsibility practices, only 47% say
they have actually purchased environmentally friendly goods or services
in the last year. (About 93% say they are conserving energy, and 89%
are recycling.)

And it takes more than a sense of doing the right thing to push them
into that purchase. Money is a big motivator, with 72% saying they
would be willing to pay more for an environmentally sound purchase if
it saves them money in the long run, which explains why products like
the Toyota Prius and long-lasting light bulbs are so hot. And 58% say
they’d be willing to pay more for products if they also provide a
health advantage.

Cone thinks that as consumers expand their framework, being green won’t
be enough. "With retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Marks &
Spencer offering more earth-friendly choices across many product lines,
consumers can more easily make those sorts of decisions," says Mindy
Gomes Casseres, account director at Cone.

Consumers are also becoming increasing adept at focusing on how key
issues change from industry to industry, she says, in large part due to
advertising initiatives like BP’s focus on emissions or Starbucks
explanations about fair trade.

"Right now, we suspect a lot of consumer awareness centers on
conversations about climate change," she says, "but that doesn’t mean
consumers don’t have things like human rights in mind when they go
shopping for footwear or apparel."

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