Recession Dampens Green Enthusiasm

Is the recession taking a bite out of environmentalists’ unwavering passion to buy green? GfK Roper’s latest green study suggests so.
In a survey of more than 2,000 U.S. adults (ages 18 and older), the market research firm found that consumer concern for the environment over the economy fell from 69 percent in 2007 to 55 percent in 2008. The decline represents a shift from “broad-based green thinking to more practical green action.”
In tough economic times, the environmental topics of priority for consumers were not so much “destruction of rainforests,” “water pollution” or “outdoor air pollution from factories,” but a renewed emphasis on “fuel and energy shortages,” and the “depletion of non-renewable resources such as coal, gas and oil to create electric energy.” Such shifts in thinking show that penny-pinched consumers, at moment, are more concerned about the short and long-term economic effects of their purchasing behavior, the report, GfK’s 2008 Green Gauge study, found.
“While the economic crisis may have been the push U.S. consumers needed to begin living a little more green, the financial pressure may limit future action,” Kathy Sheehan, an svp at GfK Roper Consulting, said in a statement. “If the economic climate continues to decline, environmental steps that do not offer cost savings may be put on hold.”
Green awareness, however, has not decreased. Seventy-two percent of respondents said they knew “a lot or a fair amount” about green issues (up 7 points from 2007) and 28 percent often seek out environmental information (compared to 23 percent in 2007).
One of the primary motivators of buying green is to save money in difficult times, the report stated. Some of the most common green steps taken include the purchase if energy efficient light bulbs and energy-saving machines. Eighty-one percent of Americans are also contemplating gas mileage as part of their next vehicle purchase (compared to 66 percent in 2007).
But consumers have also demonstrated a tendency not to scrimp in some categories, like recycled paper, green household cleaning products and environmentally safe laundry detergent, however, although these commodities typically cost more. That’s because less than a third of those surveyed feel they are doing enough for Mother Nature.
Other highlights from the report include:
•    Moms, Dads Greening the Family Tree.  Seventy-two percent of parents regularly discuss the environment’s importance with their children (up 11 percent from 2007). Other green “family talk” matters that have dominated the dinner table include recycling (up 3 points to 86 percent), conserving energy (up 5 points to 79 percent) and conserving water (up 7 points to 76 percent).
•    Green Responsibility. When it comes to environmental stewardship, respondents ranked the federal government first (46 percent), followed by individual responsibility (39 percent) and finally, corporate America (32 percent). Seventy-percent also said companies aren’t doing their fair share of environmental responsibilities.
•    Dichotomy of the Green Consumer: Similar to an IRI sustainability report published last month that divided consumers into eight green segments, GfK also identified six key targets:
•    Genuine Greens. The greenest of the bunch, this group of consumers “think and behave green and do not feel there are any barriers to action.”
•    Not Me Greens. Characterized by strong feelings toward going green, but limited to “easy behaviors” such as recycling.
•    Go-With-The-Flow Greens. Those in this group exhibit a “moderate” level of green behavior, such as recycling, but much less concern about global warming.
•    Dream Greens. Those who want to go green, but don’t do so due to lack of information.
•    Business First Greens. They’re typically less concerned about greenness and less prone to believe that it’s corporate America’s responsibility to foster the environmental  movement.
•    Mean Greens. Cynical, apprehensive, the most anti-green of the bunch.