A newly released survey, conducted in seven countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Brazil, India, Germany and France – indicates that while many environmental beliefs and behaviors are shared across different consumer cultures, others vary widely. Generally, consumers in the US, UK, Germany and France tend to align in their attitudes, while consumers in Brazil, India, and China have divergent views, and are particularly inclined to seek green products and to favor companies they consider green.
The research, conducted by WPP agencies (Nasdaq: WPPGY) Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (PSB) as well as independent strategy consulting firm Esty Environmental Partners, also identifies some critical trends on which consumers are in global agreement.
Consumers from all seven countries believe that green products cost more than comparable non-green products, and also indicate they plan to spend more money on green products in the coming year. China, India and Brazil showed significant support for additional spend: 73 percent of Chinese consumers say they will spend more, 78 percent of Indians say they’ll spend more, and 73 percent of Brazilians plan to increase their green spend. The percentage of respondents who indicate willingness to spend 30 percent or more on green ranges from 8 percent (UK) to 38 percent (Brazil).
“With the global climate change discussion focused on what the major new economic powerhouses like China, India, and Brazil are willing to do to control their emissions, those three countries stood out in our polling as more interested in buying from environmentally friendly companies and more willing to spend more on green products,” said Scott Siff, executive vice president of PSB. “From a political perspective, this turns the assumptions about those countries on their heads, and from a business perspective it says the market for green branding and green products may be even bigger than generally thought.”
The study finds similar global agreement when consumers are asked about how important it is that companies be “green.” At least 77 percent of consumers in all countries say it’s somewhat or very important; in India and China the numbers are significantly higher: 87 and 98 percent, respectively, say that corporate reputation is an important purchase consideration. Consumers from all seven countries also agreed that the most important step a company can take to demonstrate its “green-ness” is to reduce the amount of toxic or other dangerous substances in its products and business processes.
“While reducing toxics heads the list of consumer priorities the data also show that the public holds companies accountable for good environmental behavior across the board,” said Dan Esty, chairman of Esty Environmental Partners. “Consumers expect companies to recycle, use energy efficiently, reduce packaging, and pursue green innovation. So to gain loyalty, a company’s environmental strategy must be comprehensive.”
The research also reveals areas in which the countries, or groups of the countries, differ. For example, consumers in three of the seven locations – UK, France and Brazil – believe that the state of the environment in their country is “on the wrong track,” while those in the US, Germany, China and India consider the environment to be going in the right direction.
India and Brazil, however, are the only two of the seven countries in which consumers express more concern for the environment than for the economy. In the US, 77 percent of consumers communicated deeper concern for the economy than the environment, which is unchanged from 2008.
The survey also explored the communication aspects of green, finding that television and the Internet are the primary sources of information for environmental issues in each country. But consumers are divided on the factors that most influence their purchase decisions: past experiences with the product are most influential in France, Germany, and India, while recommendations from friends are most effective in the US and China, and editorial is most persuasive in the UK and Brazil. All the countries agree that intellectuals (professors, authors) or activists are the most credible spokespeople for environmental change.
“As consumer demand for information and knowledge on green increases, brands also need to become more and more sophisticated about how they communicate their company and products,” said Annie Longsworth, sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe. “Transparency is critical, as are credible spokespeople and authenticity, which can be demonstrated through product labeling and ingredient disclosure, among other strategies.”
In order to gauge which brands are communicating their green initiatives or values most effectively, the survey asked participants in each country to rate a predetermined set of brands. The results provide insight into the categories of most importance to consumers in each country. Interestingly, very few countries identified the same categories as the greenest, although Personal Care was in the top three for all countries except China.
“This year’s findings in both developed and developing countries reinforces consumers’ desires to be green by using products that are green,” said Russ Meyer, chief strategy officer of Landor Associates. “However, we’re also beginning to see a strong positive correlation between greenness and more traditional brand attributes like honesty and trustworthiness. This creates an incentive for global brands faced with the challenge of expanding the reach of pre-existing products while introducing green ones, as the presence of one attribute can have a halo effect on others.”