Does 'Made in the USA' = Green?

Consumers understand the benefits of Made in the USA. But are they connecting the dots between domestic production and sustainability? Shelton Group Director of Insight Karen Barnes looks at the issue from a marketing standpoint.

I know the dangers of being a focus group of one, but I recently did something I was pretty sure I would never do. I bought an American car. I didn’t do it for patriotic reasons, I did it because it offered the best fuel economy in its class and had all the bells and whistles I wanted for the price I wanted to pay.

As I was signing the paperwork, I felt good that I’d made a greener choice (my new car gets 60 percent better gas mileage than its predecessor) but I also felt good that I was supporting American jobs. For me, that was the sustainable cherry on top.

And it looks like I might not be the only one making the connection. In our soon to be released Eco Pulse research study, we found evidence that Made in the USA and sustainability are starting to be linked in consumers’ heads. For instance, we asked people what are their top three criteria for deciding if a home improvement product is green. The top answer, predictably, was “It’s energy efficient,” but 20 percent of people said that “Made in the USA” was important to them as a green criteria, and 9 percent said that was their most important criteria.

When we asked the same question about food, “grown locally” was important to 23 percent of Americans. When we asked consumers to choose between several cause-related attributes of T-shirts (Made in the USA, 10 perent of sales go directly to nonprofits changing lives around the world, and produced under fair trade conditions), more people chose Made in the USA than the others.

Marketers in the home improvement space might be able to capitalize on the Made in the USA message right away. A recent study by the Home Performance Resource Center found that most caulking, insulation, replacement windows, refrigerators, water heaters and furnaces are made in the USA. When paired with the current tax credits promoting energy efficient home improvement projects, this becomes a pretty powerful message to consumers -- “I’m gonna save money on my energy bills, I’m gonna get money back from the government, and I’m gonna help create new jobs here at home.”

So what does all this mean? How much power is in the claim Made in the USA? How closely is it really linked in consumers’ heads with green and sustainability? Although our results seem to indicate there’s a growing connection, we’re going to explore this question much more in upcoming focus groups, and we’ll report back here about what we uncover.

As Director of Insight for Shelton Group, Karen Barnes serves as the voice of the consumer for the firm. The original version of her post was published on the Shelton Group blog and is reprinted with permission.

Image courtesy of Shelton Group.