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Archive for the ‘Consumer Research’ Category

Green demographics are hard to come by. Most of the green consumer research deals with lifestyles’ segmentation, and is not very reliable, nor actionable from a marketer or green strategist’s point of view. I found three surveys with demographic information worth looking at. All were conducted in March-April 2008, and deal with attitudes and self-reported behaviors.

First, is a Pew Survey of Americans’ attitudes towards global warming:

These results make sense, and reinforce the widespread notion of green citizens as part of the more progressive crowd of Democrat, younger, more educated folks, who live in big cities on either coast.

Second, is a Burst Media Survey of U.S. adult Internet users, asking about extent of green behavior in daily lifestyle – as published in eMarketer report:

Although the survey seems to confirm Pew findings, indicating a skew towards younger demographics, one needs to take into consideration the following two caveats: first is the fact that behaviors are self-reported, and second, as pointed out in the eMarketer writeup, ‘the vast majority of respondents across all age groups put themselves in the “somewhat” category—leaving open the possibility that different perceptions among respondents of “somewhat” and “completely” could color the survey findings’.

Third, is a poll by Harris Interactive, amongst U.S. adult Internet users, that goes deeper into specific ‘environmentally conscious activities’ – also in eMarketer report:

The Harris Poll results are further supported by an AARP/Focalyst survey, cited in eMarketer report, that 70% baby boomers use their purchasing power to buy environmentally safe brands.

Why such an apparent discrepancy between the first two surveys and the Harris Poll? Could it be that the older folks are more likely to walk the green talk, and to take actions that do matter? Or was it the way the questions were phrased? It may be that not otherwise environmentally inclined people will engage in green-like behaviors that do save them money – energy efficiency related activities -, or are perceived as better for their personal health – buying organic products -. What do you think?

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The HCHLV Green Consumer Segmentation was just recognized by its parent company, WPP marketing communication giant, as one of the best pieces of work in the area of ‘Market Research and Insights’. Although developed for the British market, this segmentation provides yet another valuable way to look at consumers/citizens. 

At the disengaged end of the spectrum, over a quarter of UK adults are ‘Onlookers’ – those who are the least engaged and have a limited level of concern about ethical and environmental issues.

Moving along the spectrum, the ‘Conveniently Conscious’ make up over a third of UK adults. This group is aware of and fairly concerned about ethical and environmental issues. They will take easier steps such as reducing their water use, but are not interested in more involved ethical consumption or local issues.

The ‘Positive Choosers’ are highly aware of ethical and environmental issues and feel guilty about their lifestyle. They regularly buy from ethically sound companies and will boycott those they feel are not acting responsibly. However, they will rarely complain actively, choosing instead to walk away from companies they disapprove of.

There is a small segment of the population, the ‘Vocal Activists’, who hold similar attitudes to the ‘Positive Choosers’, with the exception that they are much more likely to articulate their discontent.

The most engaged segment is the ‘Principled Pioneers’. These consumers are more prepared to make significant investments of time, energy and money, alongside lifestyle changes, to turn their beliefs into actions. This includes highly engaged activities such as installing alternative energy sources and calculating their carbon footprints.

This way of segmenting consumers/citizens is remarkably consistent with the most recent Pew Survey of Americans. Basically, slightly less than half of the population is positively inclined regarding environmental issues that really matter. A glass nearly half full, that’s a start. Communication efforts should focus on nudging some of the ‘Conveniently Conscious‘ more towards the left. 

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Further evidence of the Green Power of Shrinking Wallets is reported in Nielsen‘s last consumer survey and related Associated Press article:

Reminding us once more of what behaviorists have known for a long time. Consequences, not admonitions, are most effective at changing behaviors.

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Last night, during his interview with the Associated Press, Al Gore challenged the nation to produce every kilowatt of electricity through wind, sun and other Earth-friendly sources within 10 years, an audacious goal he hopes the next president will embrace. And made it clear that the people have to play a part, through their support of politicians for such energy policy. Barack Obama, and to a lesser extent John McCain may be “way ahead” – Al Gore’s words – but they will not go very far without the popular vote, our vote. Now, consider this:

According to a recent Rasmussen survey:

  • 67% of voters believe that drilling should be allowed off the coasts of California, Florida and other states.
  • 64% of voters believe it is at least somewhat likely that gas prices will go down if offshore oil drilling is allowed
Similarly, June 2008 Pew Opinion Survey concluded:
Amid record gas prices, public support for greater energy exploration is spiking. Compared with just a few months ago, many more Americans are giving higher priority to more energy exploration, rather than more conservation. An increasing proportion also says that developing new sources of energy – rather than protecting the environment – is the more important national priority.
Al, it’s not going to be easy convincing your fellow American citizens . . . Also, what happened to conservation? How come the ‘C-word’ does not appear even once in your interview? Did I miss something?

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These past two weeks spent traveling in France and Italy convinced me even more about the role of culture and society in shaping individual behaviors. Most interesting was to observe how both I and Prad adapted our behaviors to fit the different customs in each country. Prad, who usually protests vigorously the slightest whiff of cigarette smoke back home, thought nothing of taking strolls on the smoke-filled Parisian sidewalks. In Italy, we quickly learned to conform to the practice of drinking bottled water at the restaurants. Two examples of the power of social norms, relative to individual environmental choices.

This raises the question of how to bring changes in normative behaviors, that will support sustainable lifestyles, across cultures. According to Horne, “New norms are thought to emerge when costs of compliance with existing norms become too high relative to the rewards“. Montgomery weighs concerns of costly normative actions against concerns of morality or social opinion. Though unlikely to change their behavior when norms become costly, individuals will praise those willing to do so; after a few have tested the waters, a domino effect of individuals who harbor less fear of social sanction will follow. If these innovators receive social approval, individuals will continue to participate in new strategies in order to gain recognition. Christakis‘s research similarly points to the social nature of behavioral changes.

On the green front, several trends are emerging that should give us hope. First, is the growing acceptance of the idea of green as universally cool and no longer the claim of a few treehuggers. The social sanction for behaviors such as biking, recycling, carpooling, using mass transit, recycling, to name just a few, has tipped towards the positive. Concurrently, rising gas and energy prices, are making it harder and harder for people to maintain their old behaviors. SUVs, boats, superfluous driving no longer make sense for the majority of Americans. Other adaptive behaviors are stirring, as in urban gardening, and driving more slowly.

Because time is of the essence, we would do well to consider strategies to accelerate this movement:

First, are opinion changing strategies, including all mass media and communication campaigns. Every green drop counts. What I write here in this blog. What you write, either in your own blog, or as a commenter on others’ blogs. What you say in casual conversations to your friends and coworkers. What you ask from your elected representative. What you communicate through your example, as in here and here. What the “we” and the “Together” people do. What Barack Obama, and other leaders declare is important. What the New York Times, and the rest of the press put on their front page. What Arianna Huffington chooses to promote. It all matters.

Second, are cost raising strategies, in relative terms, either through the offering of new, lower cost options, or the raising of the costs of existing options, whether volitional or not. Rising gas and energy prices are an example of the latter. And so are various forms of carbon tax. Smart technologies such as more fuel efficient cars or home energy efficiency solutions work on the other end, through the promise of higher financial rewards, and social acceptance.

Third are direct behavior shaping strategies such as evolved from Pierre Chandon‘s research. Chandon‘s study, ‘When Does the Past Repeat Itself? The Role of Self-Prediction and Norms.‘ tells us that ‘by predicting our behavior, we can actually reinforce good habits and break bad ones‘, a sophisticated twist on the power of self-fulfilling prophecy. What this means for our problem, is that by asking people such simple questions as ‘Do you bike, do you carpool, how often and how long do you walk, do you turn off your lights, do you hang your clothes to dry, do you eat fresh food?’ chances are it will increase the likelihood of them engaging in these behaviors. Conversely, by not mentioning other negative behaviors such as driving, using dryer, eating processed food, etc, they will be less inclined to perpetuate those. 

This is just the beginning of a long list. My main point is, thought leaders on climate change and other global environmental issues with a human factor component, need to spend more time exploring such behavior shaping strategies, based on the available body of research on normative behaviors.

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Richard Florida, professor of Business and Creativity at the University of Toronto, and the author of ‘Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life‘, was on NPR Talk of the Nation yesterday. Richard Florida had a lot to say about a wide range of fascinating topics. Most interesting to me were the results of his Gallup Survey on Place and Happiness.

What makes people happy?:

  • A job they love
  • Social connections and relationships
  • A good place to live 
Richard Florida added some observations:
  • Beyond a minimum threshold, income does not make a difference. 
  • People are suffering from fewer and fewer close social connections (with one the average)
  • Good places to live all share the following five factors: 1) safety and good schools, 2) economic and social opportunities, 3) good mayoral and business leadership, 4) good across the board for a variety of people, 5) physically good in term of aesthetics, pleasant to live in. 
What I find especially encouraging about this research, is that it supports visions for a more sustainable world as well. This includes the need for strengthened communities, and some ideas such as David Holmgren’s permaculture that could be adapted to living in the big cities. Note that accumulating more stuff, driving more, living in bigger houses, and more generally engaging in activities with a big footprint, are not part of this ‘make you happy’ list.

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A table is worth a thousand words. This one appeared in a short op-ed piece by Paul Krugman, in the New York Times

Boy, am I proud to be French sometimes!

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National Geographic and GlobeScan, just released a groundbreaking international study, that takes a comprehensive look at consumers’ progress towards environmentally sustainable consumption. What is especially valuable about the study, is the fact that it does not just look at attitudes, but also actual behaviors and material lifestyles actoss 14 countries. One could spend days digesting the results of the Consumer Choice and the Environment study. If you are going to pick one research study, this is the one. 

The above rankings are not flattering for the U.S. and should give decision makers a lot of food for thought. Key drivers in terms of consumers’ beliefs, give us some clues into why such disparities between the different countries, as well as ideas for possible remedial strategies:

Future environmental campaigns and policies should take these results into consideration and focus on supporting helpful beliefs, while also decreasing unhelpful beliefs. 

The following summary findings show that so called developed countries have a lot to learn from developing countries regarding many aspects of sustainability, such as environmental awareness and practices, food consumption, transportation patterns, housing choices, and community involvement:

  • Consumers feel empowered as individuals and are willing to make changes in their consumption habits. 
  • Consumers in developing countries feel more responsible for environmental problems than those in developed countries. 
  • Environmental problems are hitting home in large developing countries. 
  • Consumer choice in these countries is more limited than elsewhere, however, as people in less developed countries report lower levels of availability of green household products and foods. 
  • Current material lifestyles in emerging markets are environmentally more sustainable than those of wealthy countries as overall per capita consumption is lower – for now. 
  • The current pace of economic development in emerging markets and its implications for sustainability are reflected in the survey results. Citizens in large developing countries express a thirst for increased consumption, and many believe that people in all countries should have the same standard of living as those in the wealthiest countries do today. People in the developing world, however, are more willing to make environmentally friendly choices given the opportunity.
  • The survey results identify global gaps in transportation patterns. Consumers in North America, Australia, and Western Europe are much more likely than others to own at least one car or truck, and they also drive alone in a car or truck much more frequently than others – most Chinese surveyed say they never do. Instead, consumers in Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Russia frequently use public transportation, whereas North American, Australian, and European respondents rarely do so; American respondents are especially unlikely to use public transportation. The global outlook for sustainable transportation is challenging as the transportation gap between rich and poor countries is beginning to narrow.
  • Consumer demand for organic and local foods is strong. The food consumption profiles of Japanese and Americans are the least sustainable of those surveyed.
  • Consumer knowledge of environmental issues can be improved.
This study should be mandatory material for all policy-makers. I urge you to spread it throughout the blogosphere, and also to email it to all your friends. 

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As of late, Gallup has been a great source of important climate related behavioral data. Here is the third survey in the series, this time taking a look at differences between top polluting nations:


These are global numbers. Equally relevant are per capita footprints – latest, 2006 data from Footprint Network:

United States 9.6

China 1.6 (and growing quickly)

Russia 4.4

Japan 4.4

India 0.8 (also growing)

Japan and the US have done a good job at educating the public. China, and even more so India have done a poor job. In both of these countries, one should consider helping with educational efforts, particularly as consumption, and the risk of associated environmental damage, are growing exponentially.

Differences in education, infrastructure, access to resources such as water, and wealth, have a direct impact on citizens’ behavior:

My main take away: people are a product of their environment. Change the environment, and you will get different behaviors. Make it hard for people to access resources as in India with water for instance, and they will use less. Give them the right infrastructure, as in recycling in Japan or the US, and they will follow.

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Another recent Gallup survey completes and confirms what we already know from the other Gallup survey and other research.

  • There is a core group of people, about 30% who are deeply committed to making environmental changes. As Kyle emphasized in one of his earlier comments here, these are the people we need to work with. They can be evangelists for sustainable living.

  • The environment is a significant concern, but one that comes behind more personal and immediate concerns such as the economy, health care, energy, crime, social security, and drug use. One could say that energy concerns are directly related to the environment, and that from a systemic point of view, other issues are connected as well:

  • Recycling comes out on top, again. Probably the only green habit that is supported with widespread infrastructure and easy, no cost solutions. Let us take note and imagine how the same can be done in the other areas.

  • Last, this particular survey gets into demographics, and confirms prior research. Women are leading the way of the green revolution, and so are the people with more democrat leanings. Mary and Diane, the women part should please you!

I don’t know about you, but this leaves me with a sense of increased clarity, and hope for what can and needs to be done next.

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