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Several Studies Say Conscious Consumers Willing to Pay More for Green

A handful of new surveys point to the increased willingness to pay more -- or earn less -- for consumer products or environmentally friendly workplaces, but in which America?

A handful of new surveys point to the increased willingness to pay more -- or earn less -- for consumer products or environmentally friendly workplaces, but in which America?

In the study "Global Warming's 6 Americas," researchers at the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication state the acceptance of anthropogenic global warming varies, dividing people into "Six Americas." The data is based on "a representative sample" of Americans, conducted in the fall of 2008.

The report is an effort to better identify ways to communicate to different segments of the population about global climate change. Acknowledging that the best way to communicate is to "know thy audience," this comprehensive report identifies demographic information about the so-called Six Americas: the Alarmed (18 percent), Concerned (33 percent), Cautious (19 percent), Disengaged (12 percent), Doubtful (11 percent) and Dismissive (7 percent).

Those in the "Alarmed" category, or the most concerned about climate change and the most personally active to reduce their impacts, want "citizens, industry and government to address the threat" from climate change. These people would be the most likely to purchase products that had less of a negative or more of a positive impact on the environment and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. This group, the study reports, is also more likely to engage in consumer activism to encourage companies to increase action on climate change.

They are more likely to reward companies that do act, more likely to have taken steps to improve energy efficiency in their own homes or "habitually engage in conservation activities," such as adjusting the thermostat. This demographic group is perhaps just what marketers are targeting when they are looking to sell their green products.

And the latest round of "green consumer surveys" state just that: people say they are willing to pay more for greener products; want to reward those companies who do "good" and punish those who do "bad" or are unresponsive; companies know they can achieve positive financial returns by investing in corporate social responsibility (CSR), even if they aren't exactly sure how to accomplish it.

According to a survey released by ORC Guidelines, a company that provides "customized research," more than half of the 1,000 respondents said that a company's environmental policy influenced their decision to work there. And three in four respondents said it was "important or very important that a company take action to reduce its environmental impact."

In addition, more than three-quarters of the respondents said they had purchased an Energy Star(TM) appliance or purchased locally grown food, according to a press release by the company. And 76 percent of the respondents said that higher price would not deter them from buying a more environmentally friendly product.

Perhaps ironically, in another survey by ORC Guideline "The U.S. Consumer in 2009: Retail" notes a decline in recent months in "organic and green products." Citing another survey by Mintel, a marketing company, the reason is "consumers are reticent to pay extra for the category," and people would buy more if the products were more inexpensive.

And companies want to incorporate CSR into their businesses, knowing that an investment eventually provides a financial return, but the majority don't fully understand their customers' expectations in this area, a recent report by IBM states.

The company surveyed 250 business executives worldwide, and reports there are three main dynamics firms should understand in order to implement CSR: the potential for growth despite the costs; becoming transparent, not just visible; and creating engaged relationships with its customers.

The report cites Marks & Spencer, a British retail company, as an example of how CSR can be integrated into an existing business. The company helped to educate 16 million customers about the environmental impacts of its products with its "Behind the Label" campaign, helped to green its suppliers by promoting biogas from ranchers, and promote clothing recycling through a partnership with Oxfam, the study notes.

And another survey by BBMG, a marketing company that promotes conscious consumerism, states in its report "Redefining Value in a New Economy" that the majority of respondents vote with their wallets and influence others by word of mouth. A national survey of 2,000 adults, more than three-quarters of the respondents reported they believe socially responsible purchases "can make a positive difference." In addition, 72 percent of respondents said they punished a company by not purchasing products "from companies whose practices I disagree with."

While marketing departments be excited to hear that new surveys show people are willing to fork over more green to go green -- even in the recession -- some experts say actual sales usually fail to back up these consumers' claims.

As Executive Director Joel Makower notes in an earlier blog, "Many of these surveys begin to wilt when exposed to sunlight -- that is, when you read beyond the headline and first few paragraphs of the press release or executive summary."

Indeed, it may be hard to get beyond the press releases. To read the BBMG survey in full, expect to fork over nearly $2,500. And the IBM survey, while it provides relevant information for businesses, is probably not that interesting to the average consumer.

It is difficult to reconcile the gap between what marketing companies say customers want, and what people are actually buying. And as Makower asks in a previous post, are consumers just telling pollsters what they want to hear? Are marketers trying to greenwash or perhaps even creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? Where is the data showing that consumers are willing to forgo short-term expenditures for long-term gains to benefit health, efficiency and the environment? We are still waiting.

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