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Green Consumerism in Doubt

As companies push to capitalize on eco-sensibilities this Earth Day (see our wrap-up), a suite of reports suggest mixed prospects for such products and marketing efforts.

Sales of Green Works, the Clorox environmental cleaning line launched with great fanfare and a Sierra Club endorsement in 2008, have fallen from about $100 million to $60 million a year, according to the New York Times. The paper reports that many green products are struggling to keep up sales during recession.

These include similar cleaning and household products from major brands including Arm & Hammer, Windex, Palmolive, Hefty and Scrubbing Bubbles. Even though sales of most consumer products fell during the recession, an analyst told the paper that certain green products saw sales drop off faster than their non-green competitors.

“You see disproportionately negative impact from products like Green Works, out of the big blue-chip companies that have tried to layer a green offering on top of their conventional offering, and a relatively better performance from the niche players who remain independent,” said Stephen Powers, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company. He based his findings on a Bernstein study of monthly sales for almost 4,300 items in 22 categories, from 2006 to 2011

“In terms of the big players like Clorox, there’s no doubt that they’ve de-emphasized the brands relative to their early aspirations, and that’s reflective of what they are seeing from the consumer,” Powers added.

This week a study by L’Oréal USA and ORC International found that Americans are willing to take modest steps to protect the environment or conserve energy, but shifts in attitude and behaviors are slow to come, especially for older adults.

Fewer than a quarter of respondents said they buy products validated by third-party eco-labels and certifications, and 43 percent said they would only buy environmentally or socially responsible products if the items were the same price as the consumers’ usual brands.

In another telling example, 93 percent of those surveyed said they are willing to recycle and reuse products in order to reduce carbon emissions. However, only 46 percent of individuals responding said they are avid recyclers, and 24 percent of respondents indicated that they only recycle products in their kitchen.

OgilvyEarth seeks to understand the gap between consumers’ green intentions and actions in its new report Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability from Niche to Normal. Not surprisingly, the study found that the biggest barrier holding Americans back from green purchases is money (see price comparison graphic above).

But there were other intriguing findings. Asked whether the green movement is more masculine or feminine, 82 percent said “feminine”. This perception is keeping men from buying environmental products at anything approaching the rate of women, the researchers said.

The report also found that brand familiarity plays a big role. In apparent contrast to the Bernstein findings, the researchers found that 73 percent of Americans would choose an environmental product from a mainstream brand, such as Clorox Green Works, over a product from a specialty green company, such as Seventh Generation.

“In 2010, after launching only two years prior, Clorox Green Works had almost 50 percent market share of natural home cleaning products and is more than twice the size of the next largest brand, beating the veteran Seventh Generation who has been around for over 20 years,” OgilvyEarth said.

Finally, and in opposition to some of the findings above, a poll by NBC Universal initiative Green is Universal indicates that environmental consumerism is on the rise. The survey found that 68 percent of consumers believe it’s worth paying more for a green product or service if it comes from a brand they trust, versus 60 percent two years ago.

The percent who have boycotted a company or product over environmental policies or practices went up to 27 percent in 2011, from 19 percent in 2009. And in a related poll, Green is Universal found that 62 percent of respondents are making a conscious effort to buy products made by environmentally responsible companies.

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3 thoughts on “Green Consumerism in Doubt

  1. When we finally accept the premise that consumers see no reason for needing to pay more for Green products, which often generate profits of the suppliers, maybe we will stop wasting time and effort asking such stupid questions in these surveys. Lets get beyond the notion that consumers need to demand Green as a key element in the justification of such investments.

  2. I am no marketing expert, but I watch people and trends. The drop in sales is likely due to the converted stepping up once more and changing to local or 100% organic. Or it’s just the sheer competition, with every manufacturer coming out with a greener solution. The market is adjusting and it is my opinion that some larger companies have cold feet and want the status quo to return.

    There is something in the manufacturing and retail industries that many know about but are most are unwilling to accept, yet.

    Along with going green is the wonderful concept of reduction…people not only go green, they stop wasteful purchases. And when the purchases are made, they are more thought out for durability and long term value. This goes completely against the consumer economy of buy and re-buy in a few weeks or months, not years.

    Just a thought, theory I am working on…

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