Eco Pulse 2014: The Curse of the Improving Economy

by Jul 17, 2014

Last year, an improving economy seemed to be stimulating environmental engagement and green product purchase intent, and all signs pointed to an increase in market adoption and significant sales growth for green products.

But that promise has not been fulfilled. This year’s annual Eco Pulse study (our seventh) of U.S. consumer green affinity is full of contradictions.

We see a continued shift toward more pro-environment attitudes, along with increasing concerns and feelings of eco-guilt that should (logically) be leading to more sustainable purchasing. Yet we’re seeing stagnant purchasing patterns and declining sustainable behaviors.

Rather than spurring purchases and actions aligned with professed beliefs, we think that the improving economy has actually shifted attention away from conservation and frugality. The economic imperative for better behavior has lessened.

While the percentage of Americans searching for greener products is up five percentage points to 70%, search trends at the product category level tell a somewhat different story, falling back to (or below) 2012 levels. Most categories, including lighting, cleaning, paper goods and personal care, are all losing the purchase propensity momentum we saw last year.

We’re also seeing a marked decline in self-reported green purchases and sustainable activities, with respondents reporting 11 activities, on average, compared to 13 last year.

Overall, this year’s findings point to the need for better green product positioning. We need to better align with recognized lower-level needs, like health and security. There are a multitude of satisfiers for every need – some of which offer real, lasting solutions and some of which are temporary, false or even harmful. We need to position sustainable solutions more favorably against less sustainable alternatives.

Further, the more we can go beyond basic needs fulfillment and economics to connect with social and psychological desires, the more successful we will be. As Suzanne mentioned in her post last week, it’s time we started positioning green products as higher quality, aspirational – BETTER.

Eco Pulse 2014 will go on sale July 25. Check back at to download the executive summary and get your copy of the full report.

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About the Author

Lee Ann Head

Lee Ann is a former contributor to Shelton Insights.

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