In its survey, 45% of respondents say that advertising is their favorite way to learn about a company's corporate responsibility and environmental policy, beating out methods that include Web sites and packaging. That's an increase from 41% in 2004.
In addition, they are overwhelmingly looking to companies to act: 93% of Americans believe companies have a responsibility to help preserve the environment. "Companies ultimately need to engage consumers and effectively communicate the impact their business practices and products have on the environment," the agency says. "Consumers are listening."
The survey also found that while 32% of Americans say they are more interested in environmental issues than they were a year ago, it's still difficult for them to pay the additional costs these products often demand. For example, while 85% of those surveyed said they'd consider switching products or services if they learned about a company's negative corporate responsibility practices, only 47% say they have actually purchased environmentally friendly goods or services in the last year. (About 93% say they are conserving energy, and 89% are recycling.)
And it takes more than a sense of doing the right thing to push them into that purchase. Money is a big motivator, with 72% saying they would be willing to pay more for an environmentally sound purchase if it saves them money in the long run, which explains why products like the Toyota Prius and long-lasting light bulbs are so hot. And 58% say they'd be willing to pay more for products if they also provide a health advantage.
Cone thinks that as consumers expand their framework, being green won't be enough. "With retailers like Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Marks & Spencer offering more earth-friendly choices across many product lines, consumers can more easily make those sorts of decisions," says Mindy Gomes Casseres, account director at Cone.
Consumers are also becoming increasing adept at focusing on how key issues change from industry to industry, she says, in large part due to advertising initiatives like BP's focus on emissions or Starbucks explanations about fair trade.
"Right now, we suspect a lot of consumer awareness centers on conversations about climate change," she says, "but that doesn't mean consumers don't have things like human rights in mind when they go shopping for footwear or apparel."