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Is There a Green-Consumption Gap?

Some surveys show a "green gap" between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy. Green marketing expert and SLM contributor Jacquelyn Ottman isn't so sure.

A new pollshows that 76% of consumers say they want to help others and 69% aim to provide a better life for their children, but only 26% say they actively seek out environmentally responsible products. Paradoxically, more than 90% say that the environment influences their day-to-day purchasing decisions. What s going on?

If the environment is truly influencing as many as 90% of consumer purchasing decisions, chances are respondents are either overreporting to a surveytaker in the interest of looking worthy or, more likely, making a distinction between products that are overtly marketed as green (like Seventh Generation or Greenworks cleaning products) versus a more silent green products (such as the Method line). Consider the fact that the Energy Star label now appears on over 50 different kinds of products. Do consumers view Energy Star-labeled products as green ? Likely not. However, they would admit that seeing the label influenced their decision.

If there is a genuine gap in intention and purchase behavior, there s lots that can be done to close it all we have to do is look toward the successful brands and learn from their strategies. Key among them is keeping in mind that most consumers (read: everyone but that greener-than-green 26%), don t buy green products for their environmental attributes alone, but for the value those attributes provide: the organic produce that tastes better, the fuel-efficient car that saves money on gas, and the flushable G diapers that are more convenient to travel with.

Do you think there's a green-consumption gap and, if so, why?

Jacquie Ottman is a pioneer in green marketing, who's been advising Fortune 500 companies and U.S. government ecolabeling programs (Energy Star and USDA Certified Biobased, among others) since 1989.

She's the author of 5 books on green marketing and… [Read more about Jacquelyn Ottman]

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