Study: ‘Green’ Products Leave Consumers Puzzled

Brandweek_logo_jpegBecky Ebenkamp of Brandweek discusses how consumers are being presented with "green" almost everywhere in the marketing world but are not yet grasping its meaning.

Posted June 16, 2008
By Becky Ebenkamp, Brandweek

The good news is consumers are "going green." But the bad news is
they are still pretty green when it comes to understanding what the
term really means.

"Here’s the big ah-ha!," said Suzanne Shelton, CEO of Shelton
Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based ad agency that specializes in
energy efficiency and sustainability. "If you were an alien and you
landed on the planet in April of this year, you would think that
the ‘green’ market was pretty mature because you’d be hearing about
it everywhere—every newspaper, every TV show you turn on somebody
is talking about being green. But this is not a mature
market."

Shelton Group recently conducted a national study, called Eco
Pulse, which asked consumers open-ended and multiple-choice
questions about green issues. What it found was a whole lot of
confusion.

For instance, while half (49%) of respondents said a company’s
environmental record is important in their purchasing decisions.
But that number dropped to 21% when consumers were asked if this
had actually driven them to choose one product over another. And
only 7% could name the product they purchased.

"What that tells you is even though we’re talking the talk, it
isn’t necessarily translating into action," Shelton said. "People
are interested in being green, but they don’t necessarily know what
to do specifically, and when people are confused, they do
nothing."

The study also asked consumers to name which features a home would
need to have before they would consider it green. Four in 10 (42%)
said they didn’t know, while 28% said solar, 12% said compact
fluorescent light bulbs and 10% named Energy Star appliances.
Nothing else really registered. In a second survey that listed 17
features, consumers were asked to check those a home must have
before they’d deem it green. The average number was 10.4.

Even something as simple as defining what makes a green cleaning
product had many puzzled. While the top answer ("no harmful toxic
ingredients or chemicals") was on point, the runner up ("the
packaging is made of recycled or recyclable materials") missed the
point entirely.

"We are still in the early phases of the product life cycle," said
Shelton, whose agency clients include BP Solar and the American
Institute of Architects. ". . . What we have to do as marketers is
help [consumers] understand it in bite-size ways."

Additionally, the study found that:

– Most Americans put their personal comfort ahead of the
environment. When asked, "Given a choice between your comfort, your
convenience or the environment, which do you most often choose?"
Forty-six percent chose comfort and 31% chose the environment.

– A significant number (40%) admitted to negative or ambivalent
responses ("skeptical," "irritated," "guilty" or "unaffected") to
increased media attention regarding our impact on the environment,
while 60% answered in a positive fashion ("better educated" or
"glad").

– When asked, "How much do you agree or disagree with the following
statement? Global warming, or climate change, is occurring, and it
is primarily caused by human activity." Fifty-seven percent agreed
or strongly agreed with this statement. 

– When asked why most companies that adopt environmentally friendly
practices do so, the most common response (47%) was "to make their
company look better to the public." Only 13% believed it was
"because their owners/shareholders care about the environment."

– The fact that a company makes a green product doesn’t mean it
will be perceived as green if its manufacturing plants aren’t. Only
4% of consumers chose "a company that has manufacturing plants
contaminated with chemical waste but manufactures wind turbines to
produce green power."

No Responses to “Study: ‘Green’ Products Leave Consumers Puzzled”

  1. “- The fact that a company makes a green product doesn’t mean it will be perceived as green if its manufacturing plants aren’t. Only 4% of consumers chose “a company that has manufacturing plants contaminated with chemical waste but manufactures wind turbines to produce green power.” ”
    This is assuming that consumers know that a company they otherwise would perceive as green has a plant that is contaminated with hazardous waste. How many consumers put even a second of thought into the plant that manufactures their products?
    In a related question, ever wonder why the cement industry isn’t receiving all sorts of consumer pressure to become more environmentally friendly?

  2. Iinteresting statistics.. I think open ended questions is the best way to learn what consumers really think about eco friendly products and eco friendly companies.

  3. It’s very easy to understand why people are so confused! Fear no more! Check out our blog and let us know what you think of our products and all the green information on them! 🙂

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