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Marketing Sustainability - Bridging the Gap Between Consumers and Companies

Sustainability consciousness among consumers continues to grow. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico highlights the potential for consumers to be influenced by sustainability issues and by corporate activities. Companies are also increasingly making “green” investments into their business practices, operations, and products and services. Yet, there is a great divide between companies and consumers.

Companies are grappling with understanding what consumers are looking for and if consumers will reward them for their sustainability efforts. What are the key sustainable product attributes consumers are looking for? Consumers consistently say they are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services, but do they? How are continuing economic conditions affecting consumers?

To answer these questions, in our 2009 study on sustainability we suggested that while the worlds of business, activism and academia use the concept of sustainability to incorporate economic, social and environmental issues into one neat and tidy concept, most consumers understand the underlying values of the concept to be better expressed in terms of “responsibility.” In today‟s uncertain economic climate, what we find is that consumers tend to look beyond the prospect of companies being “responsible” and are looking for reciprocal relations with their brands and the companies they do business with to make their personal lives more fulfilling. This desire for reciprocity is best captured in the concept of the “Golden Rule”: Treat others as you would like others to treat you.

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