Today I interviewed, via the telephone, co-founder of BBMG Mitch Baranowski. He began by telling me that BBMG is “a hub for socially conscious companies that practice the triple bottom line.” The rest of the interview focused on BBMG’s Conscious Consumer Report.
Q. In the introduction of the report it mentions “the rise of the conscious consumer.” What caused that to occur?
A. It’s a combination of things. We are becoming increasingly conscious as consumers. We can’t do anything about issues like foreign policy, but we can purchase with a purpose. We can choose to do our part to make the world a better place.
We’ve seen the emergence of the social entrepreneur. Whole Foods is a good example. Companies are becoming socially responsible, and non-profits are becoming more entrepreneurial…what we call the for benefits sector.
Q. Three cities were chosen to conduct the ethnography in: Kansas City, KA; Eastern Long Island, NY; and Livermore, CA. Why were those cities chosen?
A. Kansas is a red state, Eastern Long Island is rural but farmers are being encroached upon by suburban sprawl, and Livermore has experienced a lot of growth.
Q. Does the skepticism of big corporations that both the ethnography and survey uncovered have anything to do with headline stories?
A. One of the undercurrents we picked up on are the scandals such as how BP handled its oil refinery disaster influencing conscious consumers. Conscious consumers want companies to be honest and transparent. The opportunity for multinationals is to embrace a dialogue with consumers.
Q. What can socially conscious companies do in an economy where people are being ‚Äòsqueezed’?
A. Even the most enlightened consumers want price and sustainability…more often than not they will pick the product that is sustainable. Companies need to invest in innovation…We need big, bold ideas to solve global problems such as renewable jet fuel. Companies have to look at the story they want to tell about their values.
Q. Conscious consumers prefer local companies?
A. Localism is a huge trend. You need to know where your consumers live, work and play. Conscious consumers visit farmers markets. Frankly, you are seeing grocery stores replicate the social experience.
The most enlightened conscious consumers may not have a huge disposable income…they restructured their lives around their values, but convenience is one of their core values.
Q. Why do the larger, more global issues rank low with conscious consumers?
A. The top issues are health and safety…the more abstract issues rarely impact us on a daily basis.
Q. Why doesn’t the word green resonate with conscious consumers?
A. Only 18% of conscious consumers said green describes them well. Green still has connotations of crunchy, granola-eating treehuggers. People want to live balanced, healthy lifestyles.
Mitch mentioned an article New York Times published last summer titled, “At Home Depot, How Green is that Chainsaw” about the Home Depot’s search for products for its Eco Options line. The article mentioned an electric chainsaw considered green by its manufacturers “because it was not gas-powered.”
Ron Jarvis, who oversees the Eco Options program, said, “In somebody’s mind, the products they were selling us were environmentally friendly.” He added, “Most of what you see today in the green movement is voodoo marketing. If they say their product makes the sky bluer and the grass greener, that’s just not good enough.”
Q. Johnson and Johnson topped the list of companies enlightened conscious consumers perceived as socially responsible. Why?
A. Johnson and Johnson own Whole Foods.
Q. G.E. also topped list. Why?
A. G.E. has a line called Eco-imagination [eco-friendly products]
ed note – (for a related story, check out Gina’s earlier piece on BBMG Conscious Consumer Report)