A few years ago consumer research highlighted what is known as the “green gap”—the difference between what consumers say they are going to do regarding the environment and what they actually do. At the time the thinking was that as green-marketed products become more mainstream and available, that gap would close and sustainability would become one of the main market drivers for consumer behavior. In reality, that hasn’t happened.
I am not a proponent of sustainability as simply a marketing effort. I believe sustainability needs to help drive profitability, but not necessarily because of a product’s or company’s “greenness”, but rather because of the company’s reflection on and consideration of the impact it and its products have on the environment, community, employees and overall reputation. But that being said, I did wonder why, with the proliferation of all of this “green” messaging, consumers were still not buying in.
According to a study presented at the recent Sustainable Brands Conference in California, there are number of reasons why marketing “green” has not resulted in a positive shift in consumer behavior. Some of the more interesting findings include:
1. We’re speaking to the wrong group. Marketers have been talking to both sides of the issue and not those in the middle. Why waste your time with those who are already believers or with those who will never believe. Your focus should be on the middle, those who are as yet undecided.
2. Green has a reputation as being either “hippy” or elitist. Marketers have yet to turn it into something that feels mainstream for everyday Americans.
3. “Green” products are often more expensive or at least perceived as more expensive. The mainstream either can’t afford it or they don’t want others to perceive them as being able to afford it. Again, an elitist reputation.
4. The more we tell the mainstream about what’s happening in the environment, the more guilty and powerless they feel. It’s easier to ignore the message than face the daunting task of trying to save the melting icecaps.
5. “Green” is considered feminine, not masculine.
The report provides lots of interesting lessons to keep in mind as we communicate sustainability not only to consumers, but throughout the value chain including employees, investors and other stakeholders.