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Consumers want businesses to take the lead on actions to reduce climate change, but 74% of Americans surveyed can’t identify (unprompted) any brands as taking a lead on climate change, according to the Climate Group‘s just-launched US Climate Brand Index.

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The “Climate Conscious Consumer” study, which tracks perceptions of how brands are performing on climate change, was conducted over the summer by The Climate Group and jointly funded by Sky and Lippincott.

The top 5 brands according to the Climate Brand Index:

1. GE
2. Toyota
3. BP
4. Ford
5. Honda

The brands seen by US consumers as doing the most to tackle climate change are linked to carbon or carbon-related products – automobiles, aircraft engines, turbines, and petroleum – implying that segments of the US population are receptive to brand that address the issue.

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In the UK, retailers rise to the top, with Tesco, The Co-operative, Marks & Spencer, and Sainsbury’s joining BP in the top five.

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The findings point to distinct behavioral and attitudinal differences that separate the market into six segments on this issue (see below). Companies must understand the divided market if they are to engage with consumers without appearing disingenuous, the Climate Group said.

Among the findings of the study:

Six Segments: Divided Consumer Attitudes, Behavior

US consumers are motivated by distinct drivers, which require different approaches from brands:

  • The largest group (25%) of US consumers fall into the “confused” segment, those likely to admire sound environmental practices but uncertain or uninformed about their individual role.
  • The big differences revealed are those within the most engaged part of the market: the contrast between the concerned but pessimistic “campaigners” (18%), and the feel-good “optimists” (21%) and their “seen-to-be-green” followers (8%).
  • The research shows that still nearly one-third of consumers have not been won over by the need to take action around climate change. Two segments dominate this group:
    • The “unwilling” (10%), who are accepting of the issue, but not prepared to act.
    • The “rejecters” (18%), who confidently reject the issue, feeling informed enough to do so.

Summary of Key US Findings

  • Consumers admire companies that are tackling climate change: over 60% of those interviewed.
  • Consumers want business brands to play a bigger role in tackling climate change than they do today.
  • The opportunity is positive: More people had chosen to select a brand for environmental reasons than to avoid one.
  • While US consumers have done more in high-carbon products and services (e.g., driving and energy and heating supply), their interest extends as much to low-carbon products and services such as household shopping and food.

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  • Companies are currently winning interest and admiration (from a distance) but not trust and loyalty (closeness).
  • Companies are recognized as leaders but not as having involved their consumers.
  • Marketing opportunity: Only 18% rejected climate change or were unwilling to alter their behavior in response to climate change.

Breakout Of Six Segments of Climate Consciousness (% of US Respondents)

  • Campaigners (18%) – deeply committed, but pessimistic that they can solve the problem, needing to be convinced that solutions are authentic and effective
  • Optimists (21%) - also committed, but up-beat about solving the problem; motivation is more social.
  • Confused (25%) – open-minded and looking for clarity about the issue and what they should do
  • Followers (8%) - less sure on the issue, but ready to join in nonetheless
  • Unwilling (10%) - accepting of the issue, but not prepared to do anything themselves
  • Rejecters (18%) - rejecting the issue with confidence, feeling adequately informed

“It is clear that consumers admire companies that are demonstrating real leadership on climate change,” said Chris Walker, US Director of The Climate Group. “There is an enormous opportunity for mainstream businesses to deliver green solutions to consumers rather than simply ‘greenwash’ them.”

“Climate-friendly consumer choice is here to stay. Marketing initiatives will need to mature to respond to the unique, legitimate reactions of different consumers,” said Simon Glynn, senior partner at Lippincott. “There is still plenty of opportunity for new movers to lead, as brands are only beginning to engage fully with the complexity of the market. The potential rewards for businesses that understand how these segments are evolving are huge.”

About the research: “The Climate Conscious Consumer” study (pdf) was commissioned by The Climate Group in the US (1,000 respondents 18+) and UK (1,000 respondents 18+) and jointly funded by Sky and Lippincott. It was conducted online in June 2007. It was designed to understand/segment perceptions and behaviors in green consumption and identify brand perceptions to build a comparison between the US and UK over time. It will be conducted annually.

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