Monday, July 28, 2008

The Green Theme: Are Customers Buying It?

Everyone and their grandmother is focused on the "green" environmentally-friendly theme these days, but are customers actually buying into it, both literally and figuratively? A study conducted by Gandalf Group (on behalf of ad agency Bensimon Byrnes) set out to find out, and the results might surprise you.

While many Canadians consider themselves environmentally-conscious, or at least concerned about our environmental impact, few are willing to pay more for a product that's labeled as such. Why? Some feel they're getting "hosed" since the products tend to be more expensive, while consumers don't believe that they actually cost any more to produce. Others say they are simply not financially able to support these sometimes more costly initiatives.

So what can manufacturers do to help convince customers that an environmentally-friendly label really means what it says, and that their commitment to helping the planet is sincere rather than just a marketing ploy? There are a number of things.

First, the study found that consumers might be more willing to buy a green product if there was a government-enforced standard for products, along with detailed labels that explain terms like "green", "organic", and "low emissions". If you can avoid using the word "green" altogether, that might also help. Sixty-five per cent of those surveyed said that the term has been used so much, it doesn't have as much impact on them anymore.

Women are the most likely seekers of environmentally-friendly products, so tailoring marketing and packaging toward this gender might help build sales. Gandalf Group discovered that 88% of women are more likely to consider environmental impact when making a purchase versus just 71% of men.

If you're looking to take the leap into the green theme but aren't sure where on the development scale you should put your money, consider that Canadians are really keen on recycling because it's seen as credible, and doesn't require a whole lot of additional effort on their part. Surprisingly, focuses on energy efficiency aren't as successful as we might hope: while 93% of consumers surveyed said they believe purchasing energy-efficient appliances would benefit the environment, only 38% are willing to fork over the extra dough to buy them.

A small, but significant, move a manufacturer could take is to reduce the amount of packaging used (why use a huge, plastic cartridge for a miniscule product?), and utilize renewable energy sources for production, like solar and wind. There's a simple way for retailers to help reduce their carbon footprint: turn down the lights, and turn down the heat/AC. While a nice blast of cold air on a hot summer day is welcome, I don't want to have to bring my jacket into a store so I don't freeze!

As for consumers, it's important to note that many environmentally-friendly claims are backed by stringent requirements. For example, any product labeled as Energy Star-certified must meet certain criteria set by Natural Resources Canada. The RoHS-compliance logo confirms that a product has not been manufactured using certain hazardous substances.

The bottom line is that if you're ever skeptical about the truth behing a "green" claim, research it before you buy. In many cases, the manufacturer is involved in a much larger scope environmental initiative that will be easy to substantiate.

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