Are all consumers ready to "go green"?

  • Aug 25, 2008

Companies of all sizes and across the entire business spectrum are trying to “go green” at an amazing speed. Some do it for personal reasons, some do it out of corporate social responsibility and others are doing it for good old fashioned bottom-line financial reasons.

Whatever the motivation, this is a positive trend.

But I’m often asked if going green makes good economic sense for a company or institution – and I cannot always say “yes”. At least, not with a straight face.

The truth is that, at this time, going green makes economic sense for business that cater to the more educated, more affluent and more socially responsible consumers, according to the 1996 Roper-Starch Worldwide Report.

Because this Roper-Starch Report is one of the best studies of its type, I have used it as a basis for this article. While the fundamentals of this study are still sound, remember these numbers are twelve years old. With the constant streaming of green information by the media over the past decade, I would guess that the number of consumers that would consider themselves “environmentally friendly” has gone up significantly.

According to the Roper-Starch Worldwide Report, there are five types of consumers.

1) True-Blues

This hard-core group holds the strongest environmental beliefs and actually live the eco lifestyle. They talk the talk and walk the walk, in laymen’s words.

True-Blues are usually ardent environmentalists, attempt to influence others, and are politically and socially active. This audience is one of the most educated groups and is most likely to be a white woman holding down an executive or professional job.

2) Greenbacks

This group is more willing to pay a premium price for green products – up to 22% more. Although not very politically active and not nearly as pro-active as the True-Blues, Greenbacks are most willing to show their support for the environment with their wallet. This demographic audience is primarily a young, married white male holding down a white collar job.

3) Sprouts

Probably the largest market segment, this group is willing to engage in environmental activities from time to time, as long as it doesn’t require much effort. Recycling is the most eco-oriented activity they participate I, as they will not pay a premium for green products. This is a swing group, if there ever was, and the most likely target and audience for the advancement of the green movement over the next several years.

4) Grousers

This group does not believe that individuals play a significant role in protecting the environment; instead they feel it is the responsibility of the government and large corporations to make a change. Grousers are mostly uninformed about environmental problems, and would rather complain that they are too busy, rather than to get involved. The members of this group may participate in a recycling program, but only if their local laws require it.

5) Basic Browns

Basic Browns do not make any attempt to sugarcoat the fact that they do get involved in any environmental activities; they are simply indifferent. As can be expected, this group is the least educated among the five and, according to the research, they live primarily in the South.They think the green movement is much ado about nothing and think they are being brainwashed by the “leftist elitists”. They think green washing is happening to them.

So, knowing about these five groups of consumers, does going green make economic sense for all companies?

I would conclude that any business which is targeting anyone, other than what can be perceived as “Bubba”, can gain immediate benefits from promoting green products to their audience. Just as rising tides raise all ships, I would suggest that if your product or service reaches all market segments, promoting green is still a no-brainer. Basic Browns may eventually “get it”, but it will take time—possibly as long as 5-10-20 years – or longer.

It seems that this demographic also was the last to understand the importance of Civil Rights and Women’s Equality issues. However, over time, their indifference, or even hostility to the cause, will become less meaningful to the rest of the population. As this particular audience eventually gets older and older, they will be replaced with a much more open-minded audience.

However harsh this analysis may appear, it is actually very positive. The green movement only will get stronger as people notice the Earth’s rising temperature, see more visual news clips of melting glaciers, read about more starvation and droughts across the globe, learn more about carbon neutrality and the meaning of carbon footprint, etc.

As the green movement continues in a positive fashion, every business will gain by becoming green and promoting this benefit to their consumers.

Until then, if the Basic Brown is your only customer base, putting money into green marketing, at this time, will probably not yield the best return on your investment. My hope would be that you would upgrade your product offerings to appeal to a greener market segment in the near future – until Basic Brown no longer exists as a demographic audience worthy of consideration.

Thank goodness consumers are more eco-conscious — and this trend is moving greener each day. With the 2008 elections casting even more interest on the environmental movement to the apathetic, it is only a matter of time when a new survey will show only degrees of “green-ness” — and being green will be the cost of entry for any business.

Here’s to a greener planet.


  • Category: green marketing
  • Tags: consumer marketing, eco businesses, Eco-Friendly Businesses, election, environmental movement, go green, green, green businesses, green marketing, greenwashing, marketing, melting ice caps, recycling