Green-Shy: The Awareness Gap

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

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.

5 comments about "Green-Shy: The Awareness Gap ".
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  1. Andrea Learned from Learned On, LLC, December 16, 2009 at 12:54 p.m.

    It is so much easier to get buy-in or attention from the eco-aware or "inside" influencers, that marketers can lose sight of really engaging consumers on the topic, as you write. It's akin to how those of us on Twitter -many, many of whom are in marketing - wonder how everyone else can be so out of it and not "get" its value (non-marketers need to know why to bother with Twitter, and in non-marketer language). If you look at the psychological reasons people engage with "threat," making the issue visible and immediate and based on simple causality can be key (there's a great article by George Marshall in Yes Magazine on this with regard to climate change To me, that means learning how to better communicate on sustainability practices in language your customers not only understand but really use. Initially, influencing "influencers" may have been key to generate more mass media buzz, but the time seems to have come to let consumers directly in on the great things a lot of corporations are doing on the sustainability front. Thanks for writing this piece.

  2. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., December 16, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    What a great expression, Greg! "Green Shy", I love it! I also like what Andrea has to say here. "... but the time seems to have come to let consumers directly in on the great things a lot of corporations are doing on the sustainability front."

    This makes me immediately think of the mantra in social media of "creating meaningful connections directly with consumers". What a perfect excuse for a company to create a Facebook page: inviting consumers inside the company to tell them about the green initiatives they have developed! So simple, but so beautiful.

  3. Bill Roth from NCCT, December 16, 2009 at 2:10 p.m.

    Greg, you nailed it on the head in terms of missed ROI. That is the entire basis for writing The Secret Green Sauce that profiles companies that are growing green revenues by aligning value with values with the Awareness Customer. It demonstrates their best practices for realizing "Green ROI."

  4. Kate Holcomb from Hudson Technologies, December 16, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.

    It seems that the path for green ROI is much clearer for B2C markets than B2B. With B2C the visibility of using green products has real perceived value for consumers. We have made substantial investments to convert to an environmentally sound manufacturing process. However, as a tier two component manufacturer, our product has no end-user visibility. Without industry-wide standards or measurements, B2B "greeness" is still more of a deal breaker than a deal maker.

  5. Rick Falls from RGIM Intl, December 16, 2009 at 6:09 p.m.

    Thanks for giving attention where it's due, and where it's useful too !

    I wish the media would pick up on the fact that there are a lot of things being done by people and companies to go green.

    It doesn't get better than this as far as opportunities go.

    People will admittedly pay more and the efforts align us with each other in our pursuit of a healthier and more sustainable planet.

    The money always flows to and through the opportunities that are first seen as a crisis.

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