Who’s the greenest of them all?
Each month, the Green Confidence Index asks 2,500 ordinary Americans to name a green company. Americans answered resoundingly: Walmart.
We also asked the same question of the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel, a slightly larger group of business executives along with nonprofit leaders, academics, and others, which we poll monthly on a range of topics. They responded similarly: Walmart.
It appears to be unanimous.
But it’s not so simple. Digging a little deeper reveals significant differences between who consumers see as green and who is admired by business executives. Only eight companies show up on both groups’ top 20 lists. One significant difference between the two groups was that while consumers look close to home in naming green companies, the firms green executives admire most might be characterized as environmental activists.
Consumers See Green at the Store and On the Road
Every month, GreenBiz.com, along with our partners at Earthsense and Survey Sampling International, ask Americans a simple but profound question: “What company, if any, do you think of as being green?” It’s an unaided question, meaning no list is provided. Respondents simply name companies that are top of mind.
Or they don’t. An average of 64 percent of Americans seem incapable of naming a single company they consider to be green. This isn’t due to cynicism or the high standards of committed activists; the survey results comprise a representative sampling of the U.S. adult population. It’s just that most consumers don’t associate companies with being green.
Less surprising is that when consumers pick a green company, it is typically those offering products or brands they know and likely buy, or stores where they shop. Of the top 20 companies consumers identify as green, four sell groceries (Publix, Trader Joe’s, Walmart and Whole Foods), eight sell household products (Clorox, Johnson & Johnson, Kashi, Method, Pepsico, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson and Seventh Generation), five make automobiles (Ford, GM, Honda, Subaru and Toyota), and one makes iPods (Apple, of course). (The remaining two companies are General Electric and Waste Management.)
Curiously absent from consumers’ minds are apparel and technology companies. The most likely explanation: Environmental issues rank low in purchase criteria relative to fashion (in the case of apparel) and price (in the case of technology). Apple stands out by making the list, exhibiting a convergence of fashion and technology that consumers seem to perceive as green.
Walmart Reigns but Performance Rules
What about the execs? In March we asked the more than 2,800 members of our GreenBiz Intelligence Panel questions to list up to five companies they consider to be green. Again, it was an unaided question and no selection list was provided. More than 500 panel members responded and 28 percent of those placed Walmart on their ballot. (Notably, more than a few amended their vote with a “sigh” or a comment -- e.g., “Walmart, oddly enough.”)
In our Green Consumer Index research, Walmart and Clorox, the second-place company, are separated by less than two tenths of a percentage point. But among the business executives, there’s a 12-point gap between Walmart and second-place vote getter Patagonia. Certainly, scale and reach -- not to mention a ginormous ad budget -- have a lot to do with being in the top spot for a company that generated revenues of more than $404 billion last year. But if scale and reach were all it took, we would have seen at least one vote for ExxonMobil, Chevron or ConocoPhillips, but not one of those companies received a mention.
While the consumer top 20 focused mainly on cars, retailers, and cleaning products, the companies identified as green by our executive panel reflect a wider range of industries. Consumers identified only one technology company as green, whereas business people placed Dell, Hewlett Packard and IBM on the list. And where consumers couldn’t connect green with apparel, our green execs picked Nike, Patagonia and Timberland.