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Forget ‘Dark Green’ Shoppers – ‘New Consumers’ Will Drive Sustainability, Report Says

Brands can no longer rely on “dark green”, hyper-ethical consumers to drive the growth of sustainability, but must engage a broad swathe of consumers making up 30 percent of the market, according to new research.

Brand consulting firm BBMG said a group of 70 million shoppers branded “New Consumers”, making up 30 percent of the U.S. population, will help sustainable brands to enter the mainstream while forcing large brands to accelerate their adoption of environmental initiatives.

These shoppers are “values aspirational” because they are as interested in sustainability as the hard-core “dark green” consumers. But they are also “practical purchasers” because they are forced to make pragmatic trade-offs every day, according to the BBMG report, Unleashed: How New Consumers Will Revolutionize Brands and Scale Sustainability.

Previously BBMG’s research focused on Conscious Consumers, whose purchasing is driven by deep-rooted environmental and social values. But major economic and societal changes have forced all consumers to make compromises, BBMG says. And at the same time, mainstream shoppers have become more concerned with and educated about the environment.

New Consumers are defined less by demographics than by shared values, BBMG said (although it did provide a demographic breakdown of New Consumers, above left). They are twice as likely to try new things, share their opinions online and reward or punish brands based on corporate practices. Even during the recession, 25 percent are willing to pay more for sustainable alternatives, BBMG said.

“For brands to take sustainability to scale, they can no longer rely on the dark green consumer. Instead, they need to engage New Consumers, who are just as concerned about the environment but also realistic about factors like price, performance, convenience, health and safety,” said Raphael Bemporad, BBMG’s Chief Strategy Officer.

New Consumers are taking steps to re-evaluate their purchasing, however, by opting for do-it-yourself solutions or choosing to enjoy experiences instead of buying new goods, the report said. Many are moving from “gateway purchases” such as organic, local foods to major purchases such as energy-saving appliances, fair-trade apparel and environmentally responsible travel.

BBMG found that New Consumers are skeptical, with less than four percent turning to company advertising to verify product claims. But once they find a product that they trust, they become fiercely loyal, and that loyalty will be instrumental in bringing green brands to the mainstream, BBMG said.

In the U.K., just seven percent of consumers take companies at their word on their actions to reduce climate impacts, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Carbon Trust.

But another study out this week found that American consumers continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising – such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” – giving products a greener halo than they may deserve.

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4 thoughts on “Forget ‘Dark Green’ Shoppers – ‘New Consumers’ Will Drive Sustainability, Report Says

  1. The proletariat is becomming aware of sustainability as a mindset instead of a sales pitch. Come along now you corporations… come along. The more honest and earnest your efforts, the more likely you (and we) will exist and hopefully be thriving in a century.

  2. @ Matthew – my sentiments exactly. I think it’s safe to say that with the volume and availability of information that our media driven world provides to us, there are many conflicting messages in regards to “green efforts”. At the very best, confusion leads to inaction – an unacceptable option. Engaging the consumer in a frank, open and transparent manner will work in everyone’s favor. Corporations need to go beyond simply “paying lip service”, or appearing to be paying lip service and actually lead by example. It says a lot that “green” has entered the common conscience, but without leadership and transparency, soon enough, greenwashing will become a common enough belief among people and we’ll be right back where we started.

  3. This should actually function as the switch the spurs corporations to go from token efforts to satisfy the “deep green” activists (ie., greenwashing) to a more concerted effort to make real, substantive change to products and processes. you can’t convince a corporation to change something because it’s the “right thing to do” according to an activist group. however, if they’re customer base is changing, then they have incentive to change along with them to maintain profitability, competitiveness, etc… This is how we’ve been teaching our MBA students for 3 years now; when they get out there, they have to make a business case, not an activist case. a major consumer shift will create great support for those business cases.

  4. The stats on the New Consumer are considerably different from a year and a half ago, which showed (I believe) women 55+ & men 61+ as the most likely consumers, whereas the younger crowd 25-34 were least likely.

    The post indicates very few consumers overall take the company’s word for whether or not they are “green”. The article that is linked above seems to indicate a preference toward some type of standard certification, and doubt by the consumer over corporate claims, but I am still very curious as to what source they DO use.

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