February 27th, 2012
Last month, GreenBiz.com released its annual State of Green Business report which observed the widening gap between corporate sustainability trends and a growing sense of indifference on the part of the consumer. To borrow from the report: consumers are more preoccupied with saving their jobs and homes than with “saving the planet.” Indeed, in tough times few have the capacity to care about social issues.
Last year a report entitled Mainstream Green found that 85% of Americans would rather be given guidelines on how to live a green and sustainable life and do it themselves, rather than have it legislated through government regulations and policies.
So why is there a gap between consumer intentions and their actions when it comes to sustainability? The answer lies in the unintended consequences of green marketing. This niche marketing has bumbled its way into the mainstream where the consumer audience is largely uninterested in being lectured on the importance of sustainability. Human nature inclines us to resist change in favor of the status quo, whereas sustainability means buying less and re-using more. Sustainability is edgy and different and generally not something John Q Public is clamoring for. Marketers of environmentally responsible products and services must come to the realization that “normal” is not a dirty word, but rather that it is the key to true sustainability.
One way to close this gap between unbridled consumerism and conscious consumption is to provide high performing sustainable choices. Some companies who are embracing this version of the new normal are and .
Under their Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever’s Persil Small & Mighty concentrated laundry detergent saves 35 million liters of water a year in Europe. Similarly, Levi is now promoting Water>Less jeans collection, which reduces Levi’s water usage by an average of 28% per pair. Both companies are known and trusted; therefore consumers are not sacrificing quality for sustainable options.
So how do these companies rank according to ? Unilever improved five points in 2011 to become the highest scored of nearly 150 major corporations. By embedding resource efficiency and emissions reduction targets into every layer of their value chain, Unilever has proven that true sustainability can only come from getting everyone involved from product development to product disposal.
Levi Strauss is up thirteen points from 2010 and is now striding at 74 points with a gold star*. Climate Count’s 2011Scoring Report notes two of Levi’s best practices regarding consumer engagement: Care Tag for the Environment and their Water>Less Jeans product.
Although Unilever and Levi Strauss are among the leaders in shifting consumer perceptions on sustainability, not enough consumer-facing companies are following suit. Consumers are looking for a normal and mainstream approach to “going green” without having to expend much effort to get it. It is up to the companies they buy from to better convey the importance of sustainability and nudge consumers in the right direction by offering green alternatives that don’t compromise cost or performance. To this end, perhaps it is better for companies to ditch green niche marketing and incorporate sustainability into their corporate strategy from the ground up.
- Susan Torman, Communications Intern- Climate Counts
*Gold star represents companies showing strong support for comprehensive climate energy policy.