I participated recently in a dialogue with thought-leaders on whether “green” or “renewable” or “sustainability” or “restoration” or “regeneration” is the right word to describe the sea change in technology, business processes and consumer behavior now taking place in the U.S. All the participating thought-leaders were frustrated that these words were either tainted with politics, or too limiting or too futuristic to capture the dynamic spectrum of change taking place in our society and economy.
So this week I am writing a five part series exploring the nuances of what it means to our economy, our jobs, our communities and environment as America embraces a sustainable future. This first article outlines the market research on a new awareness that is growing among consumers. In the next two articles, I’ll profile two businesses that are successfully embracing these concepts to achieve year-over-year sales growth. The final two articles will profile two communities–one on each coast–that have embraced this movement to grow their local economies while also preserving their environment.
From my market-research-driven world I offer the word Awareness to capture this sea change that carries the names of “sustainability,” “green,” etc. Market research is pointing to distinctive classes of customers touching various parts of this “elephant,” thus the range of descriptions. But a common thread among all consumers is the growth in awareness beyond their original self-interest. For example, my own personal path began in energy back in the late 1970s, in response to OPEC cutting off America’s oil supply. Like the peeling of an onion, my quest to make a difference has expanded layer after layer into energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean technologies, water, food, economic/public policy options, etc. As I network across the country I am seeing similar examples of people, organizations, businesses and communities growing their awareness from an initial self-interest focus to an appreciation of a greater challenge, and opportunity.
This path of increasing awareness has now grown to a size that it has begun to shape our market economy. Business opportunities are emerging as consumers and communities seek price-competitive solutions that enhance their health, their environment and their incomes. Cost less, mean more is their self-defining mantra for the type of goods and services they want to buy. In my book, The Secret Green Sauce, I labeled these pioneering consumers, businesses and communities the Awareness Customer. Importantly, they have an annual $10 trillion of buying power and it is this buying power that has begun to stimulate this sea-change now emerging in our economy.
The Awareness Customer consists of these four distinct groups:
- The Millennial Generation
- Concerned Caregivers
- Locally Aware Communities
- Sustainable CEOs, and those who report up to this leader
The Millennial Generation (those born around 1986) define their awareness as “Their Future.” They want a world that is cool, that reflects their inputs and comes without the 20th Century’s burdens of debt, unsustainable emission/waste streams and unresponsive businesses delivering goods and services that are going up in price while also generating environmental/geo-political consequences like global warming and foreign wars. Because they are so motivated they will actually pay a little more for goods and services that “mean more.” Unlike much of the current business community’s focus upon emission reductions, their focus is upon redesign. They have strong feelings that the legacy they are inheriting needs to be redesigned so it will provide them jobs, performance enhancing foods, cool products and a promising future. This consumer group’s size is second only to their parent’s Boomer Generation and they are developing a multi-trillion dollar annual purchasing power that businesses ignore at a risk to their business’ future viability.
The second group of consumers, Concerned Caregivers, includes the Millennial Generation’s moms. Their definition of awareness is wellness for their loved ones and themselves. There are an estimated 20 million Mommy Bloggers. Visit their sites and you will see them focused upon their family’s budgets, health and home environment. They are searching for cost-effective, tasty and healthy diets. They are sensitized to the increase in autism and are exploring how to re-engineer what they have and use inside their homes to enhance indoor air quality. They are very concerned that their children’s future has been compromised by big business’ pursuit of profits that have failed to account for the cost of polluting the air, water and food supply. They are reading labels, challenging advertising claims against their measures of “greenwashing” and questioning with whom they will do business.
The third Awareness Customer is the part of the Locally Aware Community. While Copenhagen may have been a bust and Congress appears paralyzed by voluminous legislation that only specialized lawyers seem to understand, the American community is taking action. From Gainesville, Florida to Palm Desert, California, whether the local leadership is Republican or Democratic, Locally Aware Communities are pioneering innovations in clean technology, economic development and local markets/merchants that are alternatives to globalization. Their innovations range from enabling financing of solar and energy efficiency through local property taxes to farmers markets to early adoption of lower emission transportation like the plug-in hybrid electric car.
Finally, the Sustainable CEO has embraced the reduction of CO2 emissions as a strategic goal. Today, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies now measure and track their carbon footprint. But the impacts of change upon organizational behavior are now going beyond emissions targets. Awareness is increasing among CFOs, who now are realizing cost savings (through reducing emissions and other waste streams). At a time when revenue growth is so challenging, the opportunity to meaningfully reduce costs has become the critical path for the maintenance of stock valuations by companies embracing “lean and green” (emerging research points to more sustainable companies’ stock valuations outperforming less sustainable companies’ stock valuation by approximately 400 basis points). A growing number of companies are discovering that green teams are a rich path for identifying and implementing emissions/cost reductions. Re-enforcing my concept of awareness, I have seen green team participants self-grow their awareness resulting in a much wider path of change with impacts upon their personal, family and business lives. One of my favorite examples is a green team that now has taken up home gardening. The result: team members offer a bounty of fresh fruits to their fellow associates. Why is this so cool? Associates eating fruit rather than vending machine snacks will positively impact their health which should show up in lower health care costs and associated insurance premiums for the company.
Today’s article paints a template of change that is large, encompassing and most significantly, empowered by $10 trillion of annual buying power from customers/communities/businesses I have labeled The Awareness Customer. This article is the first of this week’s five-part series profiling best practices of two actual companies growing revenues by aligning with the Awareness Customer and of innovations by two Locally Aware Communities that are restoring jobs, their economy and environment.
I hope you will come back to read tomorrow’s article about Amanda’s, the first healthy fast food restaurant!
Bill Roth is the founder of EARTH 2017.