What we all learned in 2009

What we all learned in 2009

Mainstream consumers have been on a roller coaster ride of changing perceptions and opinions regarding energy efficiency and sustainability over the last 12 months, related largely to the economy and political happenings.  Here’s a recap of what we’ve learned and our take on a few events that may be nudging consumer opinion in one direction or another:

The Consumer Mindset:

  • Green is officially a mainstream concept now. Our research has shown that 60% of Americans are actively seeking green products and companies continue to launch green products in record numbers.
  • Consumers no longer think green products underperform compared to conventional ones. That long-held perception is fading from the collective consciousness and green products are now delivering the table stakes of performance.
  • Recession is the new normal and aesthetic improvements are once again a higher priority than energy efficient ones. That means marketers of EE products and services need to fight and invest to maintain their position on consumers’ radar as the economy continues to bounce back.


  • Social psychologists and neuroscientists tell us that the human brain responds more powerfully to a “Don’t waste” message than a “Save money” message. It might seem like a small tweak, but studies show that “Don’t waste” produces 2.5x times the number of responses.
  • Since we now understand the clear differences between Engaged Greens and Mainstream Greens (see Green Living Pulse for more detail), we know for certain that there is no one-size-fits-all green message and being effective in the green space means laser targeting an audience and creating the precise message they want to hear.
  • Green is often the tie-breaker, not the primary decision driver, in product choices. Pure environmental messages – even among green-leaning consumers – don’t have the appeal of more universal, what’s–in-it-for-me emotional benefit messages.

The Marketplace:

  • Wal-Mart’s Sustainability Index is forcing their suppliers to change their manufacturing and packaging practices. And we all know that Wal-Mart is one of the most powerful market forces on the planet.
  • Consumers now have a plethora of options to check out both green and conventional products and get ratings. Early adopters — the consumers buying green now — are out there looking and comparing whether you like it or not.

Political Arena:

  • Copenhagen. No matter what comes out of the summit, it’s forcing the issue into the news and sparking a lot of media coverage and conversation.
  • The Obama Administration’s commitment to passing cap and trade legislation, focus on renewable energy and the billions of dollars in stimulus money for energy efficiency has brought unprecedented attention to these issues.

There’s plenty more where this came from, but we’d like to hear from you. What surprised you? What turned out to be the biggest opportunity? What was the biggest lesson you learned this past year?

Stay tuned next week as we make our predictions about the consumer mindset for 2010.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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