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September 16, 2007


David Robinson

It seems to me what is being ignored in this issue is the fact that greener products should be less expensive rather than way expensive. The idea behind this being that there is less new consuumption of resources and more reuse of already produced raw materials. Take for instance the recycling infg of steel, metals, glass etc. The fact that cars and other large products using such materials should bring the cost of a car down. Does it no it does not. They advertize the recycling of a an aluminum drink can saves enough energy to power a television for 3 hours. Does this reduce cost to the consumer. Not at all. Instead the price of all consumer goods continues in a deadly upward bound spiral...what is the point then.

Asher Miller

"What will it take for a critical mass of competitively priced, widely distributed, and high-quality green products to be available -- enough so that buying them feels the rule, not the exception? What will it take for green to finally be mainstream?"

Two possibilities, neither of which I'm particularly hopeful:
1. Like the commenter stated above, if greener products were cheaper than the alternative. To make this the norm, however, I think requires a carbon tax. Very difficult to pass.

2. Buying "non-green" products becomes social anathema, like smoking. But a shift like this in cultural norms is a slow process and takes a lot of marketing & awareness building. Watching celebrities driving up to awards shows in hybrids is just not going to cut it. It would take a media campaign in the mode of the Montana Meth Project, funded by Siebel, but on a much larger scale.

It would be interesting, however, to see if a more robust labeling effort would make a difference. If every product had a CO2e label like that found on food, perhaps that could make a more immediate impact on purchasing.

Peter Martin

'...a more robust labeling effort would make a difference.'

Fair, well-considered posts all. Thank you.

I am interested in labelling as this is becoming something of a cause du jour here in the UK, with all our usual national clarity of purpose.

I have joked (I hope) that a pack of kids' candies will soon need a CDR attached to carry all the various (and competing - we have several systems already up... and coming) decision-making background info we are deemed to need to act.

And I do question with that is ever going to happen, no matter how well, or consistently, it's shared at Point of Purchase.

Edwin R. Stafford

I too have been skeptical of the consumer research showing increasing interest in green buying over the years. The bottom line is that consumers buy on value/benefit -- not to save the planet.

Research I've done with Jacquie Ottman and Cathy Hartman suggests that to bring the Wal-Marts and "Joe Six-Pack" crowds into the green consumer fold is that green marketers need to position green products on their inherent personal value to consumers. Joel, I was struck by your initial dismissal of organic foods in this post because people buy them for their personal health rather than to 'save the planet.' And yet, as we see it, it is this very line of reasoning that will lead mainstream consumers to buy green.

In an article published in the journal, Environment, last year, we developed the concept of "green marketing myopia" -- the problem with much green marketing that is focused on the greenness of the product at the expense of its inherent consumer value. We identified six common consumer-sought value propositions that were associated with successful green products that have become established in the marketplace. These product positionings include: (1) money/energy savings (e.g., CFL bulbs); (2) health/safety (e.g., organics); (3) convenience (e.g., solar-powered gadgets); (4) status/symbolism (e.g., Prius); (5) high performance (e.g., front-load washing machines); and (6) 'bundling' defined as where consumer value is added to green products (e.g., Austin Energy's selling of wind-generated power to subscribers at a price that is locked-in for 10 years -- thus bundling price stability to renewable energy that appeals to businesses and mainstream power users). Our study of the marketing strategies of successful green products indicates that by emphasizing the consumer value of green products can faciliate their wider acceptance in the marketplace.

From a profitability perspective, it makes sense to position green products for mainstream consumers because green consumers are a very narrow target segment and relying on them to build a business or product following could be quite risky. Additionally, if green products are to have impact on benefiting the environment, they need to be adopted broadly in the marketplace. Thus, avoiding green marketing myopia is good for business and the environment.

In my opinion, from a green advocacy perspective, I believe environmentalists need to educate people about the consumer-benefit of green products. When people see "what's in it for me," they'll realize buying green is personally worthwhile.

Francesca Johnson

Joel, "What will it take for green to finally go mainstream?" is a good and important question but one that takes a macro view of a micro problem. And that's the problem with most consumer research in this area. Lumping together all "green consumers" or all people "concerned about the environment" really isn't helpful. But PR releases about a self-funded or syndicated study do get attention and signal that the research company in question is savvy about a hot subject. From there they are hoping to snag clients for proprietary studies that you would find far more credible. From talking to my clients, I believe that the most useful and relevant research being done on green is the proprietory work aimed at studying specific markets at the micro level. For instance, concept testing for a green carpet cleaner as opposed to asking a question about concern with toxicity in the home embedded in a general survey on "green practices". And, as of now, for competitive reasons, we are not hearing about these studies. Until there is publicly available research on green alternatives within SPECIFIC markets I think it's going to be this way for a while.
The irony is that the inflation of the numbers evident in the macro-green studies is to some extent behind the willingness of companies to fund micro-studies that include "green" as one of the potential drivers of demand. And that's where green has to hold its own.
As always, thanks for the excellent and provocative posts.

Mary Hunt

Edwin, RE: "In my opinion, from a green advocacy perspective, I believe environmentalists need to educate people about the consumer-benefit of green products. When people see "what's in it for me," they'll realize buying green is personally worthwhile.

Go to www.BigGreenPurse.com. Diane is out to educate 1 million women on how to turn $1000 of brown buying habits into $1000 of green buying habits. Since women are the primary buyers of consumer products, she's focusing on only them.

Arlene Fairfield

It seems that we, we being those who advocate for, make, or market environmental goods and services, haven’t effectively communicated the value of these products to the audiences who will presumably buy them. Sure, there’s been a lot of education and information about the environmental impacts, effects, and positive good associated with green products and practices. But for some reason these arguments haven’t made buying these products a priority. It will be important for consumers to associate a more personal, value-based, and even emotional benefit, tangible or intangible, with environmental product attributes before we see them become mainstream.

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