Greener Pastures Ahead? Five Trends You’ll See in 2010

Environmental leader logo2 Suzanne Shelton of the Shelton Group gives us a glimpse of different green consumer trends that she anticipates for 2010. The trends include "waste not, want not" messaging gaining significance, consumers disappointed by their home energy savings, continuing decline of implementation of the easiest home energy saving behaviors and more.

Posted Dec. 21, 2009
By Suzanne Shelton, environmental LEADER

Where is green going in 2010? Here are five consumer trends to look for:

1) “Waste not, want not” messaging will gain strength.

While “save money” messaging still tests well, one of our recent
national surveys found 12 percent of Americans believe “don’t waste” is
the strongest message to get them to conserve. That means a utility
could motivate homeowners to conserve by telling them, “You’re wasting
money turning up your thermostat!” rather than “Save money by turning
down your thermostat.” It’s a subtle distinction – but for these
consumers, a very important one.

2) We’ll see an increase in the number of consumers who
haven’t seen the savings they expected from energy-efficient home
improvements.

In one of our national surveys, a third of the people who claimed to
have made energy efficient home improvements said they had not seen the
savings they expected. That’s no surprise because most utilities and
home-improvement manufacturers tend to speak in “save money” messaging,
without any specifics (such as “You’ll save 10 percent on your electric
bills if you install these windows.”).

Unfortunately, our brains don’t like generalities, so we fill in the
blanks with our own number. Our studies find the number most consumers
have in mind when they hear “save money on energy efficient
improvements” is 50 percent. Wow. Totally unrealistic. Without some
expectation management on the part of marketers, homeowners will
continue to think that — and continue to be disappointed. And that
means it will get harder and harder to motivate them down the road. As
the old saying goes, “Once burned, twice shy.”

3) We’ll continue to see a decline in folks trying energy-efficiency “gateway drugs.”

The theory in energy efficiency circles has long been that if we can
just get consumers hooked on the simple, easy things – like replacing
light bulbs with compact fluorescent lights and installing programmable
thermostats — we’d get them “hooked” on energy efficiency for years to
come. Not so much.

Our 2009 Energy Pulse study revealed a sharp declining trend on
propensity to install CFL’s and a significant drop in propensity to
make simple behavior changes to save energy. This is, again, likely the
result of poor expectation management. Consumers have done some of the
activities asked of them and they didn’t see a savings (due to a colder
winter, added plug load – new computers, big-screen TVs, cell phones,
etc. — or a utility rate increase) and now they’re not motivated to
keep trying.

That’s why it’s important that utilities and energy-efficient
product manufacturers make sure consumers understand what they’re
getting and promote behavior change alongside product purchases.
Installing CFL’s doesn’t mean we can light up our house at all hours.
And a high-efficiency air-conditioner doesn’t mean we can turn our home
into a refrigerator in the summer.

4) Comfort and convenience will continue to be the major drivers for consumers making purchases.

One of our 2009 surveys found 60 percent of Americans are looking
for greener products. However, given a choice between their comfort,
convenience or the environment, 38 percent of respondents said they’d
choose their convenience, 35 percent said they’d choose comfort and 26
percent said they’d choose the environment.

In this economy, we’re looking for comfort, and we’re looking for
something, anything, to be easy. So if you’re marketing a green
product, do everything you can to show that not only is your product
environmentally friendly, but it’s also simple to use and makes
people’s lives better.

5) The number of people willing to punish companies that greenwash will increase.

In one of our recent studies, we saw a jump in the number of people
who said they’d both stop buying a product — and lobby friends and
family to do the same — if they were told something was green that
turned out not to be. Unfortunately, this puts consumers in the Box of
Impossibility: Our studies find shoppers don’t know how to define what
a green product is. They don’t trust manufacturers to tell them the
truth about how green their products are, but they’re turning to
manufacturers because they don’t have anyone else to turn to. Thus,
they’re trusting people they don’t particularly trust — and they’re
ready to pounce if that trust is violated.

OK, there you have it. Good luck in 2010. Let’s hope it’s a green year for all of us.

Suzanne Shelton is president and CEO of Shelton Group,
an advertising agency located in Knoxville, Tennessee. The agency
conducts four proprietary annual consumer opinion studies – Eco Pulse,
Energy Pulse, Utility Pulse and Green Living Pulse.

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