According to economists and pundits, the economic recovery is now well in motion. The federal government declared an end to the great recession in 2009, and consumer spending is slowly returning to higher levels.
But don’t tell that to the marketers of environmentally friendly household products. Consumer buying of green items in key categories has been essentially frozen in time over the last five years, according to our latest research.
First, the big picture. In both 2010 and 2014, the percentage of U.S. adults who have said they would be willing to pay more for environmentally safe products stood at just above 50%, with no noticeable change.
Reported buying of specific green product types follows the same lackluster pattern. Compared to 2010, 2014 purchasing of environmentally friendly all-purpose cleaners, dish washing liquid/detergent, glass/surface cleaners, laundry detergent, and light bulbs all held steady or declined.
Buying intentions also appear to be stuck in neutral for higher-ticket, considered-purchase items like cars and trucks. In 2014, one-third of adults said they buy vehicles “that reflect my commitment to support the environment,” compared to 32% in 2010.
Nonetheless, we do see some sweet spots for green marketers, opportunities revealed by studying the habits of those who report already buying other environmentally friendly items. It stands to reason that those who are motivated to spend on green products may well carry that passion to other categories.
One approach for green marketers would be generational. Early Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1955) who are the principle shoppers in the homes were 19% more likely than others to use environmentally friendly household products in a six-month period last year. By contrast, Millennial principle shoppers showed average likelihood or slightly below. Early Boomers seem more likely to be thinking and buying green.
Looking to magazines could be another strategy. We see that consumers who have bought any green product in the past six months are responsive to advertising, particularly in magazines. These people are more likely to feel strongly that magazine ads provide meaningful information, useful updates about bargains, even amusement value.
Finally, when we look specifically at buyers of green products for home improvement or renovation, we see higher-than-average reliance on the Internet as a source of information, on everything from real estate to medical issues to investments. These financially established, green-engaged consumers could clearly be reached and influenced online more than other consumers.
If the economic recovery continues, it is likely that a growing number of U.S. consumers will feel more comfortable paying more for environmentally friendly items. In the meantime, green marketers can encourage the process by targeting their most likely buyers in creative ways, leveraging deep information from research firms about their attitudes, desires and habits.