Engaging Consumers to Green Up Their Act

Greenbiz.com Melissa Schweisguth cites some recent green consumer studies and recommends companies pursue deeper engagement of target audiences in order to increase brand reputation, to make environmental issues more top of mind to the public, among other reasons.

Posted Sept. 15, 2009

By Melissa Schweisguth, GreenBiz.com

Research firms are releasing reports on green consumer trends with
increasing frequency, helping businesses align their offerings and
messaging to capture the growing market for sustainable goods and
services.

Beyond direct marketing implications, such research uncovers a
significant opportunity to engage consumers around personal
sustainability, low hanging fruit with broad benefits.

The numbers make this clear. According to a report from the Shelton Group,
the green-leaning population continues to increase, comprising 77
percent of those surveyed. Yet, these same individuals still prioritize
cost over ecological factors and lack a clear understanding of issues
like climate change.

The Hartmann Group's
sustainability research did a more detailed analysis, classifying
respondents as core, midlevel or periphery sustainability supporters.
Those in the core (a minority) are willing to put the environment first
and spend more, but the rest mirror Shelton's sample.

Clearly, consumers could be inspired to go further and show a
willingness to do so. Brands hold significant power over hearts and
minds, which could be used to drive such positive change as well as
revenue. The opportunity goes beyond selling green products or services
to include education on using products more sustainably and tips for
reducing one's ecological footprint overall.

It may seem counterintuitive to engage shoppers in environmental
activities that don't directly improve profits, but this serves
multiple business goals.

• It increases brand reputation by building positive
associations around the brand. Repeated studies show individuals are
more likely to support and recommend brands they view as good corporate
citizens.

• Current rates of resource consumption and greenhouse gas buildup
simply can't be maintained if business and society are to thrive. The
more we support broader efforts around conservation, pollution
prevention, waste reduction, recycling and the like, the more we
safeguard our ongoing operations and quality of life.

• Making environmental issues more top of mind and relevant for the
general public can drive green purchasing. To size up the prize: A GMA/Deloitte study
found that 95 percent of shoppers indicated an interest in buying green
products, but only 63 percent look for them when shopping. Letting
sustainability slip from shoppers' minds means lost sales.

• Consumer-facing efforts can double as powerful tools to support
employee engagement around environmental issues, a key strategy for
corporate sustainability, by providing high-impact messaging and
enhancing the credibility of internal programs.

• The lifecycle impact of an environmental impact is determined by
producers and consumers. It's important to help all stakeholders
understand how they contribute to the end result, and build a sense of
individual responsibility across everyone involved.

• As we continue to face growing economic, social and environmental
challenges, empowering people to take steps that benefit the
environment and communities, and often save money, is simply the right
thing to do.

There are several excellent examples of companies that are already
undertaking these efforts, realizing benefits for business and the
greater good.

• Starbucks' "Shared Planet"
platform includes a pledge for individuals to volunteer in their
communities and bring their own to-go mugs. This certainly helps
Starbucks save costs associated with cups, but stands to affect broader
resource savings and support good causes in need of a helping hands.

• Clif Bar & Co launched a "2 Mile Challenge"
in 2008, inviting participants to use their bike instead of a car for
one 2-mile trip a week. This enhanced the company's reputation with
bikers, a core target, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and
changing participants' habits for good.

• PepsiCo kicked off an "eco-challenge,"
with a website sharing ideas for individual action with updates on
PepsiCo's progress in the same areas. This helps increase the
availability of recycled materials and water-key resources for
PepsiCo's packaging and products, while driving wider environmental
protection.

Actively helping consumers become a deeper shade of green is clearly critical and beneficial in many ways. Ready to engage?

Melissa Schweisguth is director of membership development and education for the Food Trade Sustainability Leadership Association and an independent consultant on CSR/sustainability and marketing/communications. She also sits on the advisory board for Big Tree Climate Fund and maintains a blog, "Full Circle Impact."

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