To Men, Green Is a Shade Too Close to Pink

Do you think going green is more masculine or feminine? If you’re like 82 percent of Americans, you’ll answer "feminine" to this question, according to OgilvyEarth’s latest study, "Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability from Niche to Normal," which set out to learn why there’s such a big gap between what consumers say they’re going to do and what they actually do when it comes to living and shopping sustainably. And this green gender gap is among a host of surprising factors propping the Green Gap open and preventing more Americans from fully acting on their green intentions, our study found.

Over the past several years, research in the green marketing space has repeatedly revealed a gaping disparity between what mainstream consumers say they intend to do and what they actually do when it comes to living and shopping sustainably. At OgilvyEarth we call this the Green Gap. This Gap is of concern not just to environmentalists; for businesses and brands looking to realize the business opportunity in sustainability, closing the Green Gap will be essential to turning green into gold. We set out to uncover the reasons the Gap exists and get to an actionable, pragmatic set of ways to close it that will help us be more effective communicators around sustainability.  

The survey of 1,800 participants from various key regions of the U.S., plotted the U.S. population on a spectrum from Super Greens to Green Rejectors. Our "uber-finding" was that much of marketing and dialogue in the sustainability space has been getting it all wrong: We’ve inadvertently been targeting the converted Super Greens or Green Rejectors, missing in the process the Massive Middle Greens who make up 66 percent of the U.S. population and have the greatest potential to drive the mainstream green movement we so badly need. 

Digging deeper, our survey found that a green gender gap was one reason why. The majority of men surveyed clustered to the left, less-green side of our continuum. More men identified as Green Rejecters, and the ranks of the Super Greens were dominated by women. Then, when we outright asked Americans if they thought green was more masculine or feminine, they clearly told us it's feminine. Our ethnographic research in the homes of mainstream Americans confirmed the finding, with the men we spoke to admitting they refrained from green activities like carrying reusable totes and even driving hybrid vehicles because they felt girly or self-conscious. Clearly sustainability marketing needs its Marlboro Man moment. 

But how do we make eco-friendly male-ego-friendly? The challenge is not impossible. Some of the greenest men we talked to in our ethnographies were undeniably manly men taking on issues of sustainability as some sort of throw down from the universe: "Solve this! Make this work!" These men see conquering issues of sustainability in their own lives as a personal challenge, a problem to solve, and something ordinary men don’t have the know-how or competence to handle.

There are some brands getting it right. In the male-dominated world of automobiles, for example, those brands grabbing male attention are doing so by relying on old-fashioned sleek and stylish ads emphasizing performance and design, with credible environmental messages woven into the appeals to primal desires to go fast and look good doing it. Brands like Patagonia or Clif Bar that tie the environment to manly pursuits like rock-climbing and snow-boarding. Farming, DIY and technology are other fertile areas for targeting the testosterone when it comes to green. And if the way to woman’s heart is through sustainability, maybe men need to know that.  

The study shows that it is time to forge a new era of sustainability marketing. It’s time to acknowledge human nature; self-interest will always trump altruism. It’s time to focus on changing behavior, not attitudes. And it’s time we all agree that “normal” is neither a dirty word nor a boring strategy. Normal is mainstream, normal is popular, and above all, normal is the key to sustainability. 

Bicycles - CC license by richardmasoner/Flickr