What is the green gap and where is it? That’s what I’m thinking about today.
This week I heard Graceann Bennett of Ogilvy & Mather present an analysis titled “Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability from Niche to Normal.” The work is part of a large research study the firm did to understand consumers’ environmental attitudes and behaviors.
It’s a great piece of research–sound, thought-provoking and actionable. (You can read the full study and related materials here.) I’m going to share some of the thoughts it provoked in me.
The research identified and quantified what it calls the “green gap”– the gap between stated importance on the one hand and behavior or action on the other. Far more consumers say they care about environmental issues than make environmentally superior choices when given the opportunity. The study sized the green gap in the U.S. at 30 percent: 80 percent of consumers care to some degree about environmental issues but only 50 percent take the opportunity to choose environmentally superior behaviors.
Given that so many consumers seem to care about green, marketers have been frequently frustrated at their inability to motivate consumers to buy “green” products or exhibit “green” behaviors. The study states that “the persistence of the Green Gap when it comes to purchase behavior has made it difficult for many corporations, especially those selling to mainstream consumers, to make a successful business model out of green products and services.”
This research study crystallizes a question for me: Should marketers be focusing on motivating consumers to make green choices? Or should companies instead focus on making their mainstream products and services green? Maybe the green gap lies not between consumer attitudes and behaviors but between company’s products and their potential.
Why have marketers labored to position products as “green,” with its niche appeal, and sometimes inferior price/performance? Why not work to make the products consumers know and love greener, and leave the heavy handed green messaging to niche marketers?
The study closes with a dozen well-supported suggestions for how to close the green gap. Some are deal with messaging and positioning and some deal with product functionality and performance. It points out that green products are sometimes expensive, perform poorly, have niche appeal and are hampered by the fact that many people view green thinking as “feminine.” It urges marketers not to price green at a premium, to boost performance, to broaden the appeal and to shake the girly reputation of green.
I am struck by an analogy with an industry that has a thing or two to teach would-be green marketers: the personal computer industry. This is an industry that started selling costly, poor performing and ugly products that only a geek–almost always a male geek–could love. It was a niche market. Today, computers and other devices embedded with computer power, are beautiful, high performing, and appeal to both sexes. The ubiquity of computers has, of course, brought about significant changes in consumer behavior. But marketers didn’t start out by asking consumers to change their behavior–they changed their products. Mass adoption and behavior change followed.
Marketers need to look inward a bit and learn how to make green an essential attribute of their companies and their products. This may be where the real green gap lies.
What do you think?