Consumers getting more environmentally conscious

NEW YORK: US consumers are making more environmentally conscious purchase decisions, but relying on companies to give them greater information on "green" products, according to research from Cone Communications.

NEW YORK: US consumers are making more environmentally conscious purchase decisions, but relying on companies to give them greater information on “green” products, according to research from Cone Communications.

Cone's “Green Gap Trend Tracker” was based on a survey of 1,068 US adults, conducted between March 7-10 by OCR International.

It examined how consumers use and dispose of products that have green credentials.

For example, these products could be compostable or biodegradable, or clothing such as Levi's jeans that recommend cold-washing and line drying.

It found that 71% of respondents consider the environment when they shop, which is up five percentage points from 2008 when the five-year benchmark survey was last conducted.

Just less than half (45%) of consumers actively seek out environmental information about the products they buy.

The survey also showed there is a disconnect between intent and action when it comes to the consumer's role in the product lifecycle.

Nine in ten Americans believe it is their responsibility to properly use and dispose of these products, but only three in ten say they use them in a way that achieves the intended environmental benefit.

In addition, 42% of respondents said they dispose of products in a way that fulfills the intended environmental benefit, showing there is not a consistent follow-through on their environmental purchase decisions.

The majority of respondents (85%) said they want companies to educate them properly on how to use and dispose of green products. Two in ten said the reason for not doing so was because they did not know how, while one-third of respondents do not have adequate resources to do so, such as curbside disposal bins.

The survey shows there is confusion among consumers about the messaging on environmental products.

While two-thirds said they understood the environmental terms used in their advertising, the majority falsely believe the common expressions “green” and “environmentally friendly” mean the product has a positive (40%) or neutral (22%) impact on the environment.

A “green” product means it is “greener” than a previous version or compared with other products in its category. The correct response that a green product has a lighter footprint was identified by 22% of respondents, while 2% said it is a product with less of an impact than a previous version.

Just less than three-quarters (71%) of respondents said they wish companies would do a better job of helping them understand these environmental terms.

Nearly half of consumers (48%) said they are overwhelmed by environmental messages, but they prioritize authenticity over perfection, with 69% saying it is OK if a company is not environmentally perfect, as long as they are honest.

The study also found consumers will punish a company if they find an environmental claim to be misleading, with 78% saying they will boycott the product.

“With more and more products in the marketplace marketed as compostable and biodegradable, that is where the breakdown in communication begins,” said Liz Gorman, SVP for CSR and sustainable business practices at Cone. “Once a consumer buys a product, they are responsible for that part of the lifecycle of the product.”

“They understand they have a responsibility to follow through, but probing a little deeper, we can see that there is a lot of confusion and they don't always close the loop – either because they don't understand what is expected, or don't have the resources,” she added.

According to the survey, 45% of Americans use product packaging to find out more about its environmental claims, while 26% search the Web.

Gorman said that from a communications point of view, it cannot be assumed that consumers have all the information they need and will rely on packaging at the point of sale to inform them.

“For marketers, there is an opportunity to educate consumers a bit more - not in a way that is overwhelming, but simplified so they understand the why or the how,” she said.

This story was updated on April 2 to correct the percentage of consumers who identified the definition of a "green" product.

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