Waste Not Want Not? Patchy Green? Does the Green Consumer actually exist?


Is there a "green consumer" anymore?

Expenditure on ethical goods and services has grown almost threefold in the past 10 years, the Co-operative Bank in the UK declared on 30 December 2009 in itsʼ tenth annual report into green spending. Overall the ethical market in the UK was worth £36 billion in 2008 compared to £13.5 billion in 1999.

Whilst most sectors have outstripped the market, which has seen overall consumer spending increase by 58 per cent in the 10-year period, Fairtrade has enjoyed phenomenal success with sales up 30 fold. Sales of

Fairtrade goods and produce, that give a premium to growers and producers in developing countries, were just £22 million back in 1999 but last year that figure had grown to £635 million and it is expected that during 2010 Fairtrade purchases will break the £1 billion barrier for the first time.

Do you market your company as ecological or ethical? Do you do it because you have to, or because you want to? Some companies might do it as a form of self-preservation, because they are afraid of what customers will say if they don’t. Other, more progressive firms may do it because they realise that there is an opportunity to target customers who feel strongly about the issue. Whatever your reason, you need to try and reach these customers effectively? Trying to pigeonhole the green consumer by pointing to a single demographic was probably naive 20 years ago. Today, it would be extremely foolish, wouldn’t it?

So how can you segment this market? I took a look at how various organisations try to make “head or tail” of the eco-warriors of today.

According to http://ecopreneurist.com/ using Psychographics can help and they breakdown the green consumers  into 5 categories:

  • LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) — very progressive on environment and society, looking for ways to do more; not too concerned about price (16%).
  • Naturalites — primarily concerned about personal health and wellness, and use many natural products; would like to do more to protect the environment (25%).
  • Conventionals — practical, like to see the results of what they do; interested in green products that make sense (e.g., save money) in the long run (23%).
  • Drifters — not too concerned about environment, figuring we’ve got time to fix environmental problems; don’t necessarily buy a lot of green products, though may like to “be seen” in Whole Foods to enhance their image (23%).
  • Unconcerned — have other priorities, not really sure what green products are available, and probably wouldn’t be interested anyway; they buy products strictly on price, value, quality, and convenience (14%).

But these categories are really lacking in demographics… according to http://www.businessgreen.com/ we need to really look at behavioural characteristics.

If we look at Acorn’s Classification system for the green consumer they use a totally different language:

Enthusiastic Greens

Waste Not, Want Nots

Patchy Greens

Passive Spectators

Family First

Not Our Problem

The Unconcerned

(I think I could come under the “Patchy Green” classification!)

These categories also relate to your typical weekly Carbon Footprint examination.

High – Carbon Footprint over 90kg per person per week

Medium – Carbon Footprint between 70kg to 90kg per person per week

Low – Carbon Footprint below 70kg per person per week

If we then look at the Green Revolution Study carried out by grailresearch.com, we have yet further classifications:

“‘Dark green’ consumers are more committed and proactive when buying green, have a better understanding of what green means, and are more driven by environmental and health concerns

For ‘light green’ consumers, the decision to first buy green is driven mostly by curiosity.

While both ‘light’ and ‘dark green’ consumers tend to be married women with no children, ‘dark green’ consumers are more likely to be older, more educated and more affluent than ‘light green’ consumers.”

Seems a little simplified for me, but at least we get a little demographic information.

“The Green in Fashion Report by Marie-Cécile Cervellon, PhDHelena Hjerth, B.A.Sandrine Ricard, PhD International University of Monaco, states that “attempts to portray the green fashion consumer have been unfruitful. Foster (2004) suggests that the over 45 years old consumers have a tendency to be more open towards ethical information. Yet, many studies found no significant correlation between age and a green orientation (see Finisterra do Paco et al., 2009). Results are also inconsistent in terms of gender differences. Several studies found that women are more concerned by green issues than men and are more likely to engage in pro-environmental behaviors (Zelezny et al., 2000). This gender difference seems to emerge also in the youngest group of population and in a cross-cultural context (Beutel and Johnson, 2004).  Yet, recently, qualitative and quantitative results found by Gronhoj and Olander (2007) do not support the existence of such a difference.  Results are more consistent in terms of education and income. The green consumer is considered more educated and wealthier than the average consumer (Shim, 1995).  Mintel (2009) also mentions that those with a higher education are more prone to take into account ethical information regarding a company or a brand when they are in a purchase situation.”

And finally, if we look at Cognis Chemical’s guide to the green consumer, we get a lot more information about how the green consumer thinks…but again under different categories…

Cognis's Classification gives us an indication of how the Green consumer thinks?

So, there doesn’t seem to be a consisten approach to targeting the green consumer by Psychographics or demographics, so I thought I’d try socio-demographics.

Interestingly, here, I think I got closer to the answer… according to The Journal of Business Research “Can socio-demographics still play a role in profiling green consumers? A review of the evidence and an empirical investigation” by Adamantios Diamantopoulosa, Bodo B. Schlegelmilchb,*, Rudolf R. Sinkovicsd,Greg M. Bohlenca – Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK…they believe that perhaps the Green Consumer doesn’t actually exist at all. Read on…

“Throughout the 1970s, there existed a substantial segment of consumers who exhibited ‘‘little or no concern about the pollution aspects of products’’ (Kinnear et al., 1974, p. 23). However, the mindset of consumers both in North America and Europe have changed considerably since the early period of the environmental movement. Given the increasing media coverage and political attention to green issues, ‘‘it appears environmental concern is becoming the socially accepted norm’’(Schwepker and Cornwell, 1991, p. 85). Therefore, the weak explanatory power of socio-demographic characteristics may be attributed to the widespread acceptance of environmental responsibility within Western culture.”

This makes more sense to me. So do “Green Consumers” actually exist or are they people like you and I with a a thicker or thinner layer of environmental responsibility added when purchasing products or services? What do you think?

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