The Vanishing Green Consumer.

Just a few years ago green products were booming. Every major CPG producer, as well as many new entrants, were looking to add green products to their portfolio. We saw new brands like MethodClorox Green Works, and 7th Generation promoting their environmentally-friendly as the smart choice. And these products BOOMED.

But now it seems that green at home isn’t as important to consumers as green in the wallet.

Green marketing took off for a few reasons:

  1. Concern for the environment – movies like An Inconvenient Truth and Who Killed The Electric Car got people thinking about the choices they were making and how they would effect the planet for generations to come.
  2. The pre-mortgage meltdown economy lifted many people above subsistence living, allowing them to be more choiceful in their purchasing.
  3. An increase in concern over the chemicals that we were exposing our families to – through what we eat and what we use in the home.

All of these events together created a great atmosphere to get consumers to care about the products they were using. People were reading the back of the package and making choices to avoid chemicals they didn’t understand.

But lately that trend has been reversing.

Some consumers – those called “Dark Green” are moving to more and more niche products as claims of “greenwashing” are levied against large manufacturers. While a product like Clorox Green Works doesn’t contain the same harsh chemicals as its competitors, where is the plastic bottle made? How is it produced? Shipped? What happens to the packaging once it’s used up? These questions are often difficult to find answers to, so the Dark Greens turn to locally produced/sourced options that are easier to keep tabs on.

But those consumers were never a large part of the market any way. They were too fickle, too hard to reach, too distrustful of the large CPG companies. But what is happening to the mainstream consumers? The middle Americans who were choosing green over choosing cheap. Why did they change?

Some Green Works products are showing a slight increase in sales, but only after taking a significant price decrease. Full price products from the line are down almost 15%.

The big concerns seem to be the price and efficacy of the products. Consumers are starting to feel that these green products don’t work as well as their chemical-laden brethren. It’s a risky trade-off but one that consumers are willing to make. They’d rather have clean clothes, countertops and tubs (and a few extra bucks in their pocket) than clean oceans, air or forests.

And to make matters worse, this has not been contained to the CPG category. Hybrid vehicles are also seeing similar declines. In a car market that is up 10%, sales of hybrids are down 10%. Bottled water sales are 4%.

It’s an unfortunate turn towards the selfish. Consumers are still tightening their belts (and I am not blaming them for needing to make cuts) and that is forcing them to choose products that leave green in their pocket rather than on the trees. So if we know that, where are the cost effective green products? Where are the innovators bringing new thinking and new technology to the CPG category? Why do green products need to come at a premium? Historically they cost more because the people who care about the environment have the money to spend. But can’t lower income consumers care too?

Our changing climate is too big a problem to leave to the wealthy, the connected, the think tanks and research institutes and the eco-warriors. We need to encourage everyone to do their part. It starts with reducing the amount of waste produced. Choose pre-owned products, or those that come in paper packaging over plastic, and when you do buy, buy something that doesn’t poison the planet – or your family.

For more on these changing consumer attitudes, check out this article: Has Green Stopped Giving?

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About Ezra Englebardt
Account planner, digital nerd, marketing guru, tweeter, facebooker, occasional blogger, cyclist, snowboarder, mountain biker, social media junkie and avid reader. CU-Boulder and Boston College alum. Frequent guest speaker in Boston-area universities.

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