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February 22, 2009


Mario Vellandi

After seeing so many surveys, one gets to know the basic trends and values/psychographic segmentation techniques used. And while that may be interesting to learn at first, the details about percentages and participant classifications on beliefs/propensity to buy/etc, all become fuzzy and variable.

If we're interested (passively or genuinely) and smart, we'll want to know the survey sample size, participant demographics and selection criteria, data capturing method, response rate, and perhaps some other info to get a sense of validity.

But what gives, when we know that most of these reports are abstracts of some larger report we have the option to buy (which is what's really being sold). In that case, the market research companies can pump out as much generalized white papers they want so the company gets some press, reports sold, and perhaps do some upselling on additional value-added consulting.

Are they greenwashing then? Maybe, but they're just doing their job and trying to retain any business growth they've experienced in the last few years.

On the other hand, I believe in a gradual shift toward preferring to buy/do business with social & environmentally responsible companies IF (BIG), price, quality, and convenience are practically equal.


Surveys and statistics as we all know will be spun to make the point that the writer wants to make. But in reality. consumers wanting more energy efficient (aka Green) goods is driven by escalating energy costs. Wanting or at least considering Green investments is no surprise given the dreadful performance of all other types of investment and as for buying more Green products...well, simply there are more to consider in the stores so the natural law of averages means that more will be selected by consumers! I do believe that where consumers are putting others' needs before their own, and have made that conscious decision, they will stick with it as long as possible. I also believe though that Organic products where there is little discernable difference will suffer as this is more theory than practice. We will see how well supported the Fairtrade Fortnight event is here in the UK, it kicked-off yesterday...


Did You Know? "Companies that are considered leaders in environment, social, and governance policies are also leading the pack in stock performance by an average of 25%." -- "Green is Gold", Goldman Sachs Study, Margo Alderton

Mary Sullivan

Most survey reports in the news don't describe the methodology used. But in statistics, the randomness (or lack thereof) of choosing a sample to survey governs the degree of confidence one can have in the results. Where did they find these people to survey? If from a green publication or list, that would invalidate the results totally. The size of the sample also affects how reliable the results are. Reporters should ask more questions.

Pam Kassner

Unless you are the Gallop Poll taking a pulse of the nation, all research starts based on an assumption. The research will either validate or disprove the assumption.

First, if it's valid data i.e. sampling, conducted by reputable research firm etc., then it's useful information regardless of who or why sponsored it.

Second, if it's passed the validity test, and it's information that will help a sustainability professional make a business case to his fellow execs why a company should pursue sustainability, then I'm thrilled to have the data. If a company uses their data to validate the value of their product, then good for them.

I appreciate that companies are spending their limited budgets on research because now more than ever we need to make sure business understands the economic value of sustainabilty so that it doesn't become something that's cut during down times.

Those of us in the trenches trying to get others to see the value of sustainabilty welcome all the valid data we can get to show CFOs, operations, engineering and the rest of our colleagues that sustainability can make a difference to our bottom line.

Mike Kilroy

I think it's simply good intentions on both the pollster and the pollee's side. And as my pappy used to say, however, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But the polls do show a lot of concern and willingness by consumers to act green. I think it means that all things being equal, or even a little better toward the green, people would like to do what's right.

Altruism is a very strong yet unrecognized force in the market place, not understood by traditional marketeers, IMHO.

Jessie Alan

Thanks Joel, for making me stop and think about the bigger picture around these surveys. I just tweeted about the Cone survey; while its findings are suspiciously chirpy, I certainly haven't changed my "green consumption" habits at all. But then again, my green consumption is almost 100% food. And once you go organic, local, high-quality, it's pretty hard to go back. I'm very fortunate that I can eat this well; but I'm definitely sacrificing elsewhere. No out-of-town vacations this year and no new clothes.

Thanks again-

Peter Totfalusi

Thank you Joel for the reality check. As a long time organic and natural products consumer and an owner of a Eco-store I can attest that these are tough times across the board and green companies are not immune to the current tough economy. Almost every company I talk to in this industry have seen drop in sales, have made necessary cut backs to survive and almost daily I get discount offers from manufacturers and distributors to buy their products.
I believe some of the categories within the green industry is somewhat better off in these challenging times ,such as the organic food products, and other categories are taking a massive hit such as organic apparel.
I saw these dubious claims as well about how green consumers have not changed their purchasing habits and I was really happy to see your post. Thanks again Joel.

KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz

Hello, Joel. Thanks for your post. Level headed scrutiny of the data that is coming out is indeed important for all of us. Personally, I hesitate to jump to the conclusion, though, that what these researchers appear to be seeing is irrational or unfounded. Isn’t it possible that consumers are actually becoming more aware of the broader set of issues and opportunities associated with their purchasing choices? Perhaps the havoc being wrought on so many fronts these days by the gluttonous and short-sighted choices of the few has hit home. Perhaps consumers actually ARE becoming more motivated – particularly as they bask in the success of bringing change to the White House -- to take control over their health, the health of their communities and of society as a whole by voting with their spending.

It seems somewhat cynical to me to assume that the average consumer is not capable of learning to make smarter choices. From our perspective, we are in the midst of a fundamental transformation in the way the world works, and part of the reason for this is an evolving consumer base, as well as a growing community of more deeply aware business leaders. Certainly this is the perspective of those who are part of the Sustainable Life Media community.

While we are not naïve to the reality that paradigm shifting transformation takes time, the good news is that there IS growing research coming from many directions that enlightened choices are also self-serving. As more and more people come to understand this, it does not surprised us at all to see them taking action aligned with this understanding. After all, in a world in chaos, it is empowering to feel equipped to make a positive difference in some small, actionable way. And why NOT with our purchasing choices, whether at home or at work? Profound change is underway, and rather than being manipulative, we believe what you’re seeing in the research is an indication of this. Hope may be audacious, but I personally believe it is key to our ability to create together the future I believe we all want for our children, so I choose hope.

David Biddle

There are two things that always come to mind when I read the results of these surveys:

1. They usually don't tell us where the respondents are from (I assure you, in Philadelphia or D.C. the number of green consumers is far lower than in Portland, Denver, or San Francisco);

2. Cognitive dissonance is the norm in America. People say they believe in one thing but do another. Look at the Academy Awards. So many supposedly environmentally conscious people making their money off of energy intensive (insanely energy intensive) movies.

All of which is to say, it doesn't matter what these surveys say. What matters is what people do (and don't do). At least here in Philly you'll get a straight response..."Yo, gimme a beer! Screw the environment!"

Marc Gunther

For what it's worth, the corporate execs I speak to say that they have found that the vast majority of consumers are unwilling to sacrifice quality or pay a premium for products with "green" attributes.

Obviously there are brands and products that are able to command a "green" premium--Stonyfield Yogurt, Ben & Jerry's, Seventh Generation--but P&G and Wal-Mart will say the trick is to create "green" products without any sacrifice in quality or price.

Surveys that discover that "all other things being equal," people would prefer to be environmentally responsible are just silly. Who could disagree? The trouble is, all other things are rarely equal.

Wayne Maceyka

Lots of great comments here. I remember ranting to my wife about this a few years ago. Besides a skewed sampling, where are the questions that inquire about people's ranking of issues in their lives? Not only do consumers respond in ways that they think they're supposed to respond (who really wants to say that buying "green" products are NOT important to them) they do not have to rank "green" leanings against other things like their financial situation, etc.

The only real way to understand what we spend our money on is to have access to our waste stream and a pile of receipts.

My school project team just did a survey related to food and I am sure the sampling is skewed due to where we sent it. Is the data helpful? Yes. Is it definitive? No.

Ryan Jones

Forrester has released a recent report stating that 59% of consumers say they take the environmental practices of manufacturers and products into account when making a purchase. 15% of consumers would pay more for products that are made by companies recognized as environmentally friendly.

I trust Forrester...I have written more about this report & my thoughts on m-cause.com

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