Study: Americans Reach Environmental Turning Point, Companies Must Catch up

August 24, 2007

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The vast majority (87%) of American consumers agree they are seriously concerned about the environment – and most (73%) are looking to the federal government to strengthen their enforcement of green regulations – according to the 2007 GfK Roper Green Gauge study by GfK Roper Consulting (via Environmental Leader).

The top 5 environmental issues weighing heavily on Americans’ minds, according to the study:

  • Water pollution and rainforest destruction (56% each)
  • Diminishing fresh water supply (55%)
  • Fuel and energy shortages (54%)
  • Man-made outdoor air pollution (53%)

Business, Government and the Environment

Asked who should take the lead in addressing those and other environmental issues…

  • Half of consumers (50%) rank the federal government first and 62% say current legislation does not do enough to positively impact the environment.
  • Business and industry came in second with respect to who consumers think should take the environmental lead, tied with individual Americans, at 35%.
  • However, less than one-third of respondents (29%) say corporate America has fulfilled its environmental protection responsibilities well.
  • Instead, consumers are looking for more green transparency, with 74% agreeing that every large company should be required to prepare an annual statement of its impact on the environment.

A vast majority of consumers say a company’s environmental practices are important to consumers who are making key decisions, including regarding the following:

  • The products they purchase (79%)
  • The products/services they recommend to others (77%)
  • Where they shop (74%)
  • Where they choose to work (73%)
  • Where they invest their money (72%)

Additional findings from the study:

  • Four in ten Americans say they are willing to pay for a product that is perceived as being better for the environment.
  • At the same time, 55% agree that many environmentally safe products are not actually better for the environment, and most say they are too expensive (74%) and don’t work as well (61%).
  • When asked the main responsibility of large companies, slightly more than one-third (35%) of Americans say businesses should be competitive but not at the cost of reducing their green efforts.
  • Another 42% agree that businesses should be equally responsible for competitiveness and environmental protection.
  • However, should a conflict arise between the two, a majority of Americans (52%) say protecting the environment is a more important concern than economic growth.

Segmenting Consumers by Shade of Green

Segmenting consumers based on their green attitudes and actions, the study identified five key groups:

  1. True-Blue Greens: Environmental leaders and activists most likely to walk the green talk representing almost one third (30%) of the population. Nearly half of them (48%) turn to environmental groups as their main source of green information.
  2. Green-Back Greens: Do not have time to be completely green and are not likely to give up comfort and convenience for the environment, but are willing to buy green products. They represent 10% of the population. Nearly half of them (49%) get information on green issues from newspapers.
  3. Sprouts: Environmental “fence sitters” who buy green only if it meets their needs; they account for just over one quarter (26%) of the population. One-third of them cite newspapers as their main source of green information.
  4. Grousers: Generally uninvolved and uninterested in green issues, this segment believes individual behavior cannot improve the environment. They form 15% of the population. Newspapersserve as their major information source on green issues.
  5. Apathetics: Not concerned enough about the environment to take action, this segment believes that environmental indifference is the mainstream. This group represents 18% of the population. TV programs are their main source of environmental information.

Lack of Education Hinders Greenness

Though the American mindset has shifted to become more environmentally conscious, half of consumers say they “do not have the information to be personally involved in increasing their green behavior” and “aren’t sure which products and packaging materials are recyclable.” Also:

  • Nearly half (49%) also state they would do more for the environment if they only knew how.
  • The increasing speed of daily life has also had an impact as 48% admit they know they should make the green lifestyle changes but are too busy.
  • Asked why they seek environmental information, equal numbers (52%) of consumers point to protecting their personal/family health as those who say they are looking to “personally protect the environment.”

“America is experiencing an environmental awakening,” said Kathy Sheehan, SVP with GfK Roper Consulting. “However, a ‘green gap’ still exists between consumer awareness and action. Americans want to do the right thing, but lack of information, cost and questions around the true impact of current green products are contributing to their reluctance. Companies who make being green easier and more affordable will be rewarded.”

About the study: The 2007 GfK Roper Green Gauge Study surveyed 2,000 American adults ages 18 and up via the GfK Online Consumer Panel in May 2007. All data are based on and weighted to represent the total online population.

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