Hardly a day goes by without another consumer research study coming out pronouncing record growth in green markets. You could spend all day just reading press releases touting new consumer insights. It is important to distinguish between surveys that are done more to influence public opinion than to report on public opinion. In the market research field, studies that are commissioned for marketing purposes are sometimes called For Public Release, in that the purpose of the research is to promote something newsworthy about the sponsor’s product or policy. Just because the research is sponsored, however, does not automatically mean it is biased.
There are a number of leading research and consulting firms that do research that is free of any potential sponsor bias. Although you may have to pay a hefty fee to purchase a syndicated report, or be a client to access the full range of insights that the firm may have, there is a wealth of top-notch research available for free.
Natural Marketing Institute, Hartmann Group , EarthSense, Boston Consulting Group, and Deloitte (sponsored by the Grocery Manufacturers Association) have all released detailed studies recently. Deloitte has found that green shoppers in the grocery store are diverse demographically who buy more products on each trip, visit the store more regularly, and demonstrate more brand and retailer loyalty in their purchasing behavior. And, ka-ching! They are less price sensitive than the average shopper and they are generally not bargain hunters.
People are still on a learning curve that can be bewildering. Even after all these years, the paper vs . plastic (grocery bags) or the cloth vs. disposable (diaper) debates are not resolved or well-understood. Though widely used in business circles, the term “sustainability”is little used in consumer circles. Hartman found that only 54% of consumers claim any familiarity at all with the term “sustainability” - and most of these consumers could not define it appropriately upon probing. Ecolabeling.org has identified 272 different eco-labels - no wonder we are confused! It is highly unlikely there will be any consolidation of eco-labels (USDA Organic and EPA Energy Star are notable exceptions) , although the rise of rating sites like goodguide.com and EWG Sunscreen guide that provide Consumer Reports-type ratings can help consumers navigate this bewildering maze.
It is important to remember that interest in, and purchases of, green products has held up rather well through the greatest recession since the Depression. Look for an increase in demand and desire as the economy recovers and people feel safer about spending. The next 3 years will see an explosion of high-mileage cars and stimulus-fueled improvements in everything from refrigerators to smart-grid electric meters. Even though today’s hype may exceed the actual reality, in a few years we may look back and see the recession was the tipping point for widespread consumer adoption of environmentally-preferable products!