If a company invests in sustainability but no one knows it, is it green?
According to the latest Annual Ipsos Green Technology Report, people are largely unaware of serious sustainability measures being undertaken by leading technology companies. While some companies engage in "greenwashing," other companies understate (often unintentionally) their green efforts. Perhaps these companies should be called "green-shy."
Fully 44% of consumers polled by Ipsos did not associate any technology brand as being green. When broken down by company, no major brand did better than 24% awareness. This is despite the fact that eco-friendly products have become more important to consumers and a third of Ipsos survey participants said they would be willing to pay more for a green product.
Take Dell for instance -- rated #2 by Newsweek's Fortune 500 Greenest Companies List. Only 20% of consumers are aware of Dell's efforts. But of the 80% of consumers that are unaware of their efforts, a full third would be willing to pay more for a green product. Assume there are 100 million technology consumers in the marketplace. According to these numbers, 80 million are unaware of Dell's sustainability efforts, but over 26 million of those would be willing to pay more for a greener product. That's a lot of lost selling opportunity.
This "awareness gap" translates into unrealized Return on Investment (ROI) for Dell and many other technology companies on their sustainability investments.
Fundamentally, sustainability efforts must be driven by increased profitability. While some businesses green their operations and products for altruistic purposes, cash remains king and shareholders still demand profits.
The Ipsos Report demonstrates that a good number of consumers are willing to pay more for a green product, they are just not aware of what companies are green. This presents an opportunity for technology companies to leverage their green efforts more effectively.
Another good example of this awareness gap is the fact that 67% of consumers polled by Ipsos said their buying decisions would be influenced by the availability of a free recycling program. Yet only 38% of consumers are aware of such programs.
Strangely, while consumer awareness is low, "insider" awareness among industry analysts, environmental groups, and academics is strong. This indicates that marketing and PR efforts have been focused on influencers but have not been aimed directly at consumers, missing their most important audience.
Tech companies must do a better job to close this awareness gap and communicate directly with consumers. They must do so by putting their green efforts in terms that consumers can relate to -- most notably with the pocket book, and they shouldn't be shy about it. More energy efficient products equal lower cost of use, for example.
We have seen the rise of the "Awareness Consumer," so we know consumers hunger for information when making buying decisions. By closing this awareness gap and capturing a greater ROI, these companies can justify the economics of their own investments and demonstrate to other businesses across industry sectors that it pays to be green.