American consumers believe they can positively impact the environment on a personal level, but they also want to “save their green” while shopping green. Put another way, they are prepared to reward manufacturers, retailers, and others offering products that benefit the environment as long as any additional costs associated with providing those benefits are not transferred to them in the form of higher prices.
Earth Day 2019, an A.T. Kearney study of 1,000 US consumers’ sentiments on environmental benefit claims, found that more than 70% of consumers consider their impact on the environment when shopping. But, even as topics like climate change continue to make headlines, only 52% have shifted their purchase decisions—although this is improving, with 66% intending to shift within the year. Why haven’t they changed? The answer is they want the businesses that serve them to change first.
While nearly 80% of respondents would consider delayed shipping if the environmental benefit was clearly articulated, they are unlikely to settle for higher costs in exchange for environmental benefits. Almost half of all respondents, across all income levels, note cost as the primary obstacle to purchasing “green.” And, not only that, they hold the private sector to a higher standard than they do the public sector. More than 65% of consumers believe companies should exceed government sustainability standards.
Of the consumers A.T. Kearney surveyed, 80% believe changing their personal everyday decisions is the most effective path to improving environmental outcomes whereas only 20% of consumers believe supporting NGOs and government is a more effective path.
Consumers are also skeptical when it comes to evaluating “green” claims. Nearly 80% of consumers look to supporting factors or external certification to evaluate the credibility of benefit claims. Fewer than 25% of consumers ranked “intangible” claims—say, undefined statements about energy reduction or water quality improvement—among their top three purchase decision influencers. Benefit claims such as recycling that are more immediate, i.e. easily experienced by the shopper, were found to be more impactful than remote benefit claims or claims that were out of consumers’ control or beyond their visibility, such as changes in production processes.
“What we see in these findings is that the consumer market may be more receptive to buying green products than they were in years past,” says Greg Portell, an A.T. Kearney partner involved in the study. “But, they don’t want to sacrifice quality or pay higher prices to benefit the environment. And, two other things are clear. One, credibility, authenticity, and communications are critical to selling any benefits. And, two, consumers expect manufacturers and retailers to bear their fair share of the cost.”
The study’s findings make it clear that “green marketing” has outgrown its roots in the paper goods and other CPG categories. In fact, apparel is likely to be a major beneficiary of the next “green” wave: almost 50% of respondents said they intend to shift their apparel purchase behaviors to be more “green”—a significant increase from the 38% who purchased “green” apparel last year.
As A.T. Kearney’s Consumers@250 report demonstrated, while Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are clearly environmentally aware and willing to put their dollars where their values are, it’s not just young shoppers that are leading the charge. Consumers of all ages—including 70% of respondents age 18–44 and 62% of those 45 or older—see themselves shifting purchases towards “green” products in the coming year.