One of the most interesting trends in our newly-released Eco Pulse™ 2012 study is the percentage of Americans who say they know a product is green because it’s made by a company with a strong environmental reputation (31%, compared to 23% in 2010). This is one of several data points in this year’s study that indicate a growing number of consumers now consider corporate environmental practices or reputation in their purchase decisions.
Over the past four years, we’ve seen approximately 50%, of Eco Pulse respondents claim that a company’s environmental reputation impacts their purchase decisions “somewhat” or “very much.” But upon digging a little deeper, we find that the number who’ve actually chosen or stopped purchasing a product based on environmental reputation remains consistently small (12% this year vs. 13% in 2010).
When pressed for specifics, however, more respondents could actually name a product that they’ve chosen or dropped (55% compared to only 20% in 2008). This means that a company’s environmental reputation IS growing in importance, both as a criterion for determining if a product is green and as an increasingly real purchase driver.
We’re regularly asked two questions by nervous corporations: 1) “Should we really publicize our sustainable initiatives? Won’t making green claims draw attention to things we aren’t yet doing?” and 2) “Will consumers believe us?”
Based on years of qualitative focus group feedback, we’re confident in saying the answer to the first question is “YES, you should.” Consumers appreciate action, give credit for effort and generally don’t expect perfection. While that doesn’t mean you can get away with dumping toxins into a local river because you run a zero-waste manufacturing plant, it does mean that initiating an internal recycling program gets you approximately the same level of buyer appreciation as running a zero-waste manufacturing plant – both are a positive change in the right direction.
This year’s Eco Pulse provided a somewhat surprising answer to the second question. When we asked, “How truthful do you think most companies are when making green claims?” we found less skepticism than we expected. Almost three quarters (71%) said that companies are often or always truthful, while only 29% said they are rarely or never truthful. As indicated by the majority choosing “often truthful” or “always truthful,” it seems most Americans are willing to listen.
We’re moving out of the realm of sustainability initiatives purely for cost savings or PR value and into the realm of sustainability for competitive advantage. Consumers want companies to tell their own sustainability stories. Make space for your corporate sustainability story on product packaging (and, yes, you can make room for it…see Karen and Suzanne’s posts from a few weeks ago). And feature your corporate sustainability story in advertising at the brand or corporate level to create a halo effect for all your products. The more consistent you are across all products with sustainable practices, content standards, etc., the better. In other words, if you have a green halo – wear it!