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Consumers Value Environment Less than Economic Development

The environment is only the second-most important issue for companies to address, chosen by 21 percent of adults in the ten-nation 2011 Cone/Echo Global CR Opportunity Study.

In the survey released today by Cone Communications and Echo Research, economic development was the most widely chosen issue, ranked most important by 34 percent of respondents. Human rights came third with 12 percent.

The survey of 10,000 adults was fielded in countries comprising about half the world’s population: the U.S., Canada, Brazil, U.K., Germany, France, Russia, China, India and Japan. The only country where the environment was ranked first was China (see chart).

The poll found that 93 percent of consumers would boycott a company for irresponsibility, and more than half (56 percent) say they already have. More than a third (36 percent) have researched a company’s business practices or support of issues, and 32 percent have given their feedback about a company’s responsibility efforts directly to the company.

Mike Lawrence, executive vice president and chief reputation officer of Cone Communications, said online tools are allowing customers to find corporate information that was once reserved for credentialed journalists.

While they are willing to punish businesses, consumers are also willing to reward brands they see as behaving responsibly. The survey found:

  • 94 percent of respondents would buy a product that has an environmental benefit; 76 percent have already purchased an environmental product in the past 12 months.
  • 93 percent would buy a product associated with a cause; 65 percent have already purchased a cause-related product in the past 12 months.
  • 93 percent believe companies have made at least some positive impact on the world; 25 percent say the impact has been significant.

Nearly three-in-five consumers (59 percent) credit companies with helping to educate them on important issues, and a similar number (56 percent) say companies have inspired them to support a new issue.

A vast majority of consumers – 93 percent – want to know what companies are doing to operate more responsibly or to support social/environmental issues, and 91 percent say they want to be heard by companies. But despite this expressed preference for a dialogue, consumers ultimately still find convenience in traditional one-way communications. The product/package (22 percent), media (21 percent) and advertising (16 percent) are the most effective channels to reach them with messages about corporate responsibility.

However, online media are also having an impact: websites got 11 percent, social media seven percent and mobile devices three percent of responses. In all, 89 percent of consumers expect companies to use both traditional and new media channels to reach them.

Earlier in the year, the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker found that many Americans believe products to be better for the environment than they actually are. Consumers continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising – such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” – giving products a greater halo than they may deserve.

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2 thoughts on “Consumers Value Environment Less than Economic Development

  1. To my mind, most consumers are basically socially and environmentally illiterate, that is when it comes to deeper social and environmental issues, not the “save the polar bear” or “save the amazon forests” issues, which are drummed into their brains. That is probably why market forces have taken over the job of greening the planet, through adverts of products that may have little or no contribution in actually greening the planet, or protecting the environment. So, would the results of such polls really give us a sense of direction?

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