2010 Green Brands Survey: What Do Green Consumers Want?

green consumerA recent study on consumer perception and purchasing behavior shows an increasing interest in purchasing from environmentally sustainable companies. However, “green” consumers are concerned about a variety of sustainability issues. Climate change ranked high globally, but respondents from various countries cited deforestation, energy use, toxic waste reduction, and water management as priorities.

These diffuse interests make it difficult for businesses to effectively develop  and communicate their environmental strategies. According to Dan Esty, chairman of Esty Environmental Partners, “[C]ompanies must not only develop environmental strategies to address their most important global impacts, but they also need to be able to connect with consumers in a compelling and relevant way on a market-by-market basis.”

About the survey

The 2010 ImagePower Green Brands Survey is communications conglomerate WPP’s fifth annual global survey on consumer perceptions of green brands and corporate environmental behavior. Three WPP agencies and the strategy consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners conducted it. The survey polled over 9,000 people in eight countries, including the US, UK, France, Germany, China, India, Brazil, and Australia.

Key Findingsgreen consumers

Across all geographies, over 60 percent of consumers said that they prefer to purchase from environmentally responsible companies. The market is still developing, particularly in developing countries. However, costs are still a major obstacle to consumers’ ability to purchase green products in developing nations, and play a large part in decision making everywhere.

In the US, energy efficiency is perceived as the biggest environmental problem. But economic concerns are also an obstacle in the US; 79% of respondents view the economy as the biggest issue the country is facing today. Individuals reported that they were also slightly less likely to spend money on green products then they were in 2009.

Top 10 US Green Brands

The survey also reported the top 10 brands in each country that are perceived as being the greenest. The top US brands are Burt’s Bees, Whole Foods, Tom’s of Maine, Trader Joe’s, Google, Aveeno, S.C. Johnson, Publix, Microsoft, and Ikea. These companies represent diverse products and services, company size, longevity, and corporate cultures and values.

Consumer perception seems to be shifting away from self-proclaimed green companies to companies that are enabling or encouraging others to be greener, like Google and Microsoft. Survey responses also indicate that US consumers are fairly savvy about greenwashing, and skeptical of overblown or unsubstantiated claims.

But will they pay for it?

That’s really the key question for business owners, investors and analysts. Respondents say that they want to buy green, but the findings indicate that they may not be willing to put their money where their mouth is.

And even if they would pay for it, what’s the right price to charge? For businesses to promote environmentally responsible consumption (almost an oxymoron), they must charge the true cost of the products, not the subsidized or even the market value. Businesses must figure out how to price externalities like health care costs incurred through exposure to poisonous substance, or the future cost of dwindling resources like water and fossil fuels. This may in turn make everyday goods like cotton and petroleum out of the reach of many consumers.

Shivani is Principal at Friday Consulting, where she works with food and technology startups on strategy, finance, and business planning. She is also a founding consultant at AchieveMission. Shivani holds a BA from Stanford University, and an MBA from Presidio Graduate School. Follow her on twitter @shivaniganguly.

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