Should We Rethink What It Means to Be a “Green” Consumer?

clothing rackThe holidays are about many things – festive celebrations, goodwill towards others, spending time with family and friends…and shopping.
To help encourage consumers to buy their products and services, more retailers are highlighting their sustainability credentials. But today’s consumers need more than that – they also need a clear demonstration of how a company is bettering society and the environment.
Athleticwear company Patagonia is trying a radical new approach to consumer engagement – they’re asking customers to consider whether they really need to buy their product at all. As this Groundswell article explains, the strategy has actually helped Patagonia win customers from other brands.
One reason this campaign worked is because Patagonia didn’t ask consumers to deny themselves – if they needed a new jacket, they should buy one. But if last year’s jacket still worked, they should think twice.
ecoAmerica’s research has found that people are less likely to support a climate solution if they think it will mean sacrifice or a lower quality of life. Emphasizing the win-win (you can stay toasty warm this winter and be a good steward of the planet) goes a long way towards building support. It’s also important to appeal to the virtues people strive for (such as being less wasteful and more financially responsible), and give them a way to put those virtues into practice. Patagonia’s campaign avoided finger-wagging, but it did cause consumers to think about their buying behavior in a new way.
For more tips on how to engage people on climate by appealing to their values, download our new report, Connecting on Climate: A Guide to Effective Climate Change Communication.

The Bottom Line: Patagonia, North Face, and the Myth of Green Consumerism

Kelsey Ryan, editor of Groundswell’s magazine
How can you tell the difference between The North Face and Patagonia?
Just looking at the merchandise of each, the two companies are easy to confuse. With little difference in price point for most items, the two companies’ main products (winter athleticwear) look just about the same, and it can be difficult to see which brand has the upper hand.
And despite their reputation as the clothing of suburban high school students, both Patagonia and North Face are well known as front-runners in the field of ecologically responsible companies. Organic fibers, ethical treatment of workers, minimizing emissions from company workshops, and transparency on business ventures are the orders of the day for both companies.
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