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Shattering the Stereotype of the Green Consumer

<p>The environment isn't green consumers' top concern, their kids aren't influencing them to go green, and many know what to do to help save the planet, but often don't do it, a new study says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p>

A new national study of green consumers is busting the stereotypes about them: The environment is not their top concern, their kids are not influencing them to be green, and while many know what they should do to save the planet, they often don’t do it. As a result, messages aimed at them often fall on deaf ears ... 

Our Green Living Pulse study published last week, and our PR team has done such a good job of boiling down a few of the key findings, that I’m literally stealing from their press release here.

First, though, a bit of context. Shelton Group conducts four national consumer studies a year to keep our finger on the pulse of shifting attitudes and behaviors around energy and the environment. We use these insights to fuel the development of our advertising and communications work for our clients.

We’ve noticed that about 3/4 of the population consistently pops up as participating in at least some green attitudes and behaviors, and the Earthsense Eco-Insights study confirmed this.

So we reached out to the 77 percent of the population identified as green buyers in the most recent Eco-Insights study of 30,000 consumers and probed deeper on knowledge vs. behaviors, attitudes and messaging responsiveness. Through the course of our study, we busted six big myths that marketers have long held true about green consumers:

1. Myth: Green consumers’ top concern is the environment.

When asked to identify their top concern, the economy, by far, is No. 1 (with 59 percent calling it their top concern) and the environment falls far behind (8 percent).

2. Myth: Green consumers’ main motivation when reducing their energy use is to save the planet.

When asked the most important reason to reduce energy consumption, 73 percent chose “to reduce my bills/control costs” and only 26 percent chose “to lessen my impact on the environment.”

3. Myth: Green consumers are all-knowledgeable about environmental issues.

For example, the survey asked, “From what you have read or heard about CO2 (carbon dioxide) please place a check beside any of the following statements you think are true.” Almost half (49 percent) chose the incorrect answer, “It depletes the ozone layer.”

4. Myth: Green consumers fall into a simple demographic profile.

While the study detected some demographic tendencies, it found that green consumers aren’t easily defined by their age, income or ethnicity. Instead, the survey found that green consumers generally share one of two mindsets. The Engaged Green Mindset is marked by optimism, extroversion, and a propensity to try new things -- and is more likely to respond to themes of innovation and possibility. The Mainstream Green Mindset is more pessimistic, introverted and apt to like things known and tried -- responding to themes of security and reliability.

5. Myth: Children play a big part in influencing their parents to be green.

Only 20 percent of respondents with children said their kids encouraged them to be greener  -- promoting recycling and turning off the lights, for example.

6. Myth: If people just knew the facts they’d make greener choices.

Green Living Pulse shows that knowledge does not always lead to behavior. Individuals who answered all of the science questions correctly did report participating in a significantly higher average number of green activities -- such as driving a fuel-efficient car or lowering their thermostat. However, the 25-34 age group consistently answered the question correctly, yet, on average, their green activity levels were lower than those of older respondents.

The moral of the story is this: Many marketers and, frankly, advertising agencies, are stereotyping green consumers and embracing many of these myths as fact. If green messages were simply better targeted, more people would be buying green products, conserving electricity and doing more to save the planet. If you’ve got a green ad campaign in the market now and you don’t feel like it’s driving inquiries the way it should, it’s a good bet it’s because the campaign is founded on myth rather than fact.

Suzanne C. Shelton is founder, president and CEO of Shelton Group, an advertising agency focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices. She writes a blog at, where this piece originally appeared.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user AMagill.

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