Developing brand and communications strategies to promote green products is top of mind for most consumer goods manufacturers and retailers, so they should be encouraged by the overall findings of the 2009 Green Brands survey that, despite the poor global economy, consumers still want green products.
But some of the specific results are surprising. For example, unlike Americans polled, Brazilian respondents are more concerned about the state of the environment than with the state of the global economy, and Brazilians are more inclined to increase their spending on green products than consumers in many other countries, including the US, the UK, France, Denmark and China.
Most countries named the usual suspects – such as Burt’s Bees and The Body Shop – as their favored brands. But Ikea, which has made strides in sustainability in the past, ranked eighth among Americans (just below Wal-Mart) and came in dead last (tenth) among Chinese respondents. (And this was even before the Ellen Ruppel Shell’s book Cheap, which lambastes Ikea, hit the shelves.)
Perhaps the most significant finding from the poll – which was conducted online with consumers in each seven countries – was that respondents in China, India and Brazil expressed the most willingness to spend more on green products than those from the UK, the US, France and Germany.
“With the global climate change discussion focused on what the major new economic powerhouses like China, India, and Brazil are willing to do to control their emissions, those three countries stood out in our polling as more interested in buying from environmentally friendly companies…” says Scott Siff, executive vice president of market research firm Penn, Schoen & Berland, who, along with public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe, brand consultancy Landor and consultancy Esty Environmental Partners, conducted the survey. “From a political perspective, this turns the assumptions about those countries on their heads, and from a business perspective it says the market for green branding and green products may be even bigger than generally thought.”
In addition to questions about their willingness to pay a premium for green goods, respondents were also asked what forms of communication have the greatest impact on their understanding of green issues on their buying decisions. TV and Internet were the top media in both respects, and social networks were ranked lowest across the board. In the US, more respondents ranked word-of-mouth above newspapers as a source of information on green issues, but newspapers were ranked above word-of-mouth in all other countries.
When asked what steps are most important for companies to take in order to be considered green, respondents in all countries ranked reducing toxic or otherwise dangerous substances from products and business processes to be the most vital, followed by recycling materials and using recycled content. Partnering with environmental organizations and promoting green practices in advertisements or through public service announcements came in dead last.
So what are the business lessons to be learned from the survey? The way Annie Longsworth, sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe, sees it, consumers increasingly want companies to be transparent about their products and practices, as a means of giving credibility to their green claims. “This is the fifth time we’ve done this survey. From years past we know that consumers are looking for legitimate products, we know companies need a corporate strategy that shows commitment [to green practices], and the third part of this is more transparency,” she says.
She points to a move that SC Johnson made this year to begin listing the ingredients in its products as an important driver for other companies to become more transparent as well – and for consumers to start demanding more transparency. (It should be noted that SC Johnson lists only home cleaning and “air care” products on its What’s Inside web site. Its many other chemical products, such as bug deterrent OFF! and bug killer RAID are absent – though it did remove a particularly toxic ingredient in its insecticide in recent years.)
Another notable insight that this year’s survey reveals: a big shift in the types of people who are influencing consumer decisions around green products. “In past years, this would have been a celebrity, but five out of the seven countries [polled] now say that authors or professors are the top [spokespeople].”
Plus, everywhere but in the UK, the indicator that consumers use to determine a product’s green cred is a certification mark. In the UK, consumers rely more on media reports to help them pick green products.
At least 73 percent of consumers in every country agree that non-governmental organizations are the entity they trust the most to take significant action to protect the environment.
In total, 5756 people, 18 and older, in the seven countries were polled. Here’s the break-down by country:
France, Germany and India: 751 in each
China and Brazil: 750 in each