With the number of green businesses growing and 92% of survey respondents reporting that sustainability spending is increasing at their organization, it’s never been more important to implement green marketing. Because believe it or not, marketing messaging positioned around saving the planet won’t necessarily pull in green consumers! In fact, the green consumer is more complex than our internal stereotypes might tell us otherwise.
Before we go further into the 6 myths about green consumers, let’s take a quick look at Shelton’s landmark Green Living Pulse study that identified the 6 myths back in 2009.
The Green Living Pulse Study
The study was conducted by Shelton Group, sustainability marketing experts on a mission to ‘translate the good you do for people and the planet into business success.’
They carry out four national consumer studies a year to assess the changing attitudes and behaviors of consumers about the environment. They use the findings and data to drive their client work and business activities. The study involved 77% of those who identified as green consumers in an Eco-Insights study of 30,000 people.
Now for the myths!
Myth 1: Green consumers’ top concern is the environment
When you think of green consumers, does your mind go straight to a climate activist who spends most of their time doing good things for the environment? Well, although you might be right some of the time, the data from Shelton tells us otherwise.
When asked to identify their top concern, the economy was a number one concern for 59% of people, compared with the environment only coming out top for 8%.
Interesting, right? We’d all assume that the main driver of green consumers’ green purchasing habits is the environment. But, it is in fact the economy that keeps them up at night.
What we can take away from this is that our marketing messaging shouldn’t only focus on the environmental benefits of our product or service. What it should do on top of that is communicate how green products and businesses will result in a stronger economy, because they’re built to last and don’t rely on unsustainable resources.
Myth 2: Green consumers’ main motivation when reducing their energy use is to save the planet
When asked the most important reason for them to reduce their energy consumption, 73% of participants answered “to reduce my bills/control costs” and only 26% answered, “to lessen my impact on the environment.”
This perfectly ties into the previous point about the economy being their biggest worry and highlights the strong power that the economy and finances can have on a consumer’s behavior.
Ultimately, the planet doesn’t care why people change their behavior for the better. It only matters that people change and adopt more sustainable habits. Focusing marketing messaging on the financial benefits and saving opportunities that come with reducing energy usage may have a longer-lasting effect on changing consumer habits.
Myth 3: Green consumers are all-knowledgeable about environmental issues
One of the questions the survey asked was, “From what you’ve read or heard about CO2 (carbon dioxide), please place a check beside any of the following statements you think are true.” 49% of people chose the wrong answer, which was that “It depletes the ozone layer.”
This myth has the power to overwhelm businesses and even stop them from attempting to market to green consumers. Marketers may assume that green consumers know everything, and so they either might not bother to communicate their green credentials or will stop sharing facts and data about green issues altogether.
Myth 4: Green consumers fall into a simple demographic profile
While the study did detect some demographic tendencies, it found that green consumers aren’t easily defined by their age, income, or ethnicity. Climate change affects all of us, and we shouldn’t hold stereotypes about who we assume is a green consumer.
This is why fully inclusive marketing is a cornerstone of green marketing – and it’s something we teach in the Academy. If we are not inclusive in our marketing efforts, we are alienating people and our messages won’t have as wide of an impact.
Myth 5: Children play a big part in influencing their parents to be green
Only 20% of respondents with children said their kids encouraged them to be greener by, for example, promoting recycling and turning off lights.
This green consumer myth is particularly relevant today as we witness a generational shift in attitudes toward the environment, with 63% of Millennials willing to pay more for a greener product. Many businesses might then assume that if they can target the behaviors of the younger generation, they’ll have a knock-on effect on the older population as the children will positively influence their parents.
Instead, this data tells us that we should target all age generations equally with our green marketing and not leave all the heavy lifting to the younger generation!
Myth 6: If buyers just knew the facts they’d make greener choices
People who answered all of the science-related questions correctly did report that they took part in a higher number of green activities on average. But, things were different for the 25–34-year-old age group. Despite their knowledge about environmental issues, they had a lower level of green behaviors than those that were older.
Many of us probably assume that knowledge is power and the more people know, the better their decisions will be. This is why marketing campaigns shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all, and messaging should change based on the targeted age group. It also opens up an opportunity to figure out why younger people know more about green issues but are less likely to use that knowledge to fuel action, and what we as green business owners can do to inspire more people to take action.
The stereotype of the green consumer
“Because green consumers are being stereotyped, and these myths we tested are embraced by marketers as facts, many green messages are falling on deaf ears,” Shelton says. “If these messages were better targeted, more people would be buying green products, conserving electricity, and doing more to save the planet.”
We couldn’t agree more, and this is why committing to learning, changing, and adapting based on what we learn is so important. The green marketing landscape, and sustainable businesses in general, are growing and changing every day. We’ll always strive to stay on top of trends and shifts and look at real-world data instead of using our own internal assumptions and possible biases about consumers.
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