While none of the Top 10 names in the fifth annual ImagePower Green Brands Survey -- led by Burt's Bees, Whole Foods Market, and Tom's of Maine -- are exactly shockers, the extensive survey did turn up plenty of other surprises.
For one, the recession was no match for consumer commitment to sustainable purchases, both in the U.S. and around the world. And because it draws on more than 9,000 responses from eight countries, the research -- done by Landor Associates, Cohn & Wolfe, and Penn Schoen Berland, all owned by WPP, and Esty Environmental Partners -- it paints a much fuller picture of what sustainability means to consumers at this point, and why the green connection is growing stronger.
Marketing Daily asked Russ Meyer, Landor's chief strategy officer, to explain:
Q: What role has the downturn been playing in people's buying decisions?
A: To me, the surprise was that this global economic crisis had less of an impact than we thought it would. It's certainly on people's minds, though, especially in the U.S., where 79% say they are more concerned about the economy than the environment -- that was more than in any country we polled.
But still, 35% of consumers here say they will spend more on green products, and 44% plan to spend the same amount. And in China, India and Brazil, 70% of consumers are saying they will spend more. I think that bodes well for green. It's also interesting that in the developed countries, the biggest barrier was the perception that green products are expensive, while in less developed countries, the barrier is that these products just aren't as available.
Q: What about the top 10 brands in the U.S., which also include Trader Joe's, Google, SC Johnson, Publix, and Ikea, as well as newcomers Microsoft and Aveeno?
A: It is nice to see tech companies makes the list, because I don't think most people think about the carbon footprint of their online searches. But in the U.S., energy use is seen as the main concern, so it makes sense. And with what's going on in the Gulf right now, I'd expect that to continue to be true. (Full disclosure -- we work with BP.)
Q: What are the main concerns elsewhere?
A: In India and Brazil, it's deforestation; in Australia, it's water. What that means is there's a real global maturing of sustainability -- it no longer means one thing, but a set of concerns.
And in China, there's a huge concern about certification marks -- about 72% of Chinese consumers rely on these when they shop, but they think the labeling is confusing and not trustworthy, And really, when you look at what's happened in China -- including its milk problem last year -- that makes sense.
Q: Can you explain the tension between price and concerns about the environment?
A: In the U.S. especially, consumers are in a wait-and-see mode about the economy, and so they are weighing their green purchases very carefully. But we are seeing a breaking down of the old idea that a product can't be green and a good value at the same time. And that sort of mirrors a change we're seeing in corporate behavior -- companies are increasingly realizing they can be green and make money for shareholders.
Q: With so many companies becoming increasingly -- and more genuinely -- green, don't their corporate efforts become more or less invisible?
A: Absolutely. The brand advantage from sustainability is decreasing everyday -- the more companies become green, the less they can differentiate themselves from one another. We're reaching a tipping point, so that it's not that companies will be rewarded by consumers for being green, but that companies that aren't environmentally responsible will be punished.
Q: Is there anything companies can do to prevent fading in to this increasingly green landscape?
A: Yes. There are lots of companies doing great things for the environment in their business practices -- backstage, if you will, and consumers aren't aware of it, even if shareholders are. I think many companies are really missing a trick, because we know the environment is relevant to consumers -- why not tell them?
So companies need to find the right ways to communicate their efforts, and I don't mean just in corporate sustainability reports. Why not make that information available in stores?