7 Reasons Why Greening Up is Hard to Do

Green business owners beware: don't buy into your own press. Although we are wont to focus on the oft-cited LOHAS stat "1 in 4 adult Americans cares about health and sustainability," the real ratio is less favorable, especially in cases where the green label costs more. And that still leaves an uninterested majority. How much more progress could we make if we learned to engage the other 75 percent in the green conversation?

I've been trying to uncover the reasons why the majority doesn't value sustainability since 2005, and through my search I've made some surprising discoveries about the obstacles that we're facing.

The systemic barriers to positive change are entrenched and insidious, stretching far beyond the usual culprits of big industry and hyper-consumerism. Although my study was more anecdotal than quantitative, it reflects an investigation of those attitudes that don't appear in surveys.

Among the cumulative challenges these obstacles pose is the ability to easily, frustratingly, reduce sophisticated CSR programs to lip service. And many of the genuine issues preventing sustainability from taking root are exacerbated by the proliferation of green marketing strategies -- a sad irony. It calls to mind Einstein's warning, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

Despite the discouraging nature of these findings, they do present opportunities for savvy entrepreneurs and conscious companies who can help consumers translate environmental awareness into action. Here are some observations that represent the most inconvenient -- and still largely unspoken -- truths standing in the way of a sustainable America.Green, American Style book cover

1. The socio-economic rise of women speeds consumption. Over the next five years, the global incomes of women are estimated to grow from $13 trillion to $18 trillion. That incremental $5 trillion is nearly twice the growth in GDP expected from China and India combined, making women the biggest emerging market ever seen. This means a huge opportunity for consumer products companies.

As one marketing strategist points out, "We are continuously doing research on 'why she buys' to give us insight into the impact that female consumers have on the marketplace." He goes on to suggest that delayed marriage, lower birthrates, divorce and higher incomes make women prime targets for goods in the convenience, luxury and technology categories. This spells serious un-sustainability.