What consumers say and what consumers do are not inextricably linked. Consumers, for reasons internal (how they feel about themselves) and external (how they are perceived by others), can behave anywhere across a spectrum from acting in perfect concert with, to direct opposition to, what they say they’ll do.

The green phenomenon today is an example of a skewed version of this behavioural typology.

The believers

For a minority of consumers, admittedly a generally well educated, motivated and media savvy group of people, what they say about this issue is what they do. These are the people we see throwing themselves in front of whaling ships, buying eco products as a matter of course regardless of product quality or price.

These people believe.

Of course I care, but …

At the other end of the spectrum we have a group, who can be typified by ‘urban mum.’ She drives her children to school in a nearly new SUV (even though it’s a 15 min walk / bus ride to the kids’ school), she buys the food her kids and family will eat, not what has the fewest food miles / greenest packaging.

Of course, she has a few things in her cupboard that are relatively ‘green’, maybe some fair-trade bananas, and some organic tinned tomatoes, but it’s not the driving force behind her weekly shop. Yet talk to her and you’ll hear how concerned she is with the environment, how she always reads the label and that ‘green’ credentials are important to her purchasing decisions.

What does the consumer really mean?

The behaviour of urban mum does not support her strongly claimed stance. When talking to her, she is not being disingenuous. So what is going on?

She is doing two things:

  1. firstly, she is saying what she believes will cast her in a good light to the person with whom she is discussing her philosophies. We all want to be liked, and if you say ‘bah humbug’ to the environment, how can you really love your children if you contribute to the destruction of their eco-system?
  2. Secondly, and more importantly for businesses, is the opportunity cost for ‘urban mum’ to make the ‘green’ choice, because if she could she probably would for the reason above alone.

Remember the first wave of low-fat foods? Only hardcore dieters bought them. Why? They were expensive, tasted terrible and people didn’t really understand the benefits. ‘Green’ products still have elements of this about them.

How can green credentials help your business?

In buying these goods I’m compromising on something – taste/price/quality/effectiveness, etc. The few ‘green’ products that have been purchased in our mythical example are low risk, or those with relatively low price differentials and where there is no to low resistance from the family.

This is where ‘green’ credentials today can help boost a business. Where there is fierce and close competition between businesses it can be used as a differentiator. It can also be used as a loyalty gaining activity. However the competing products and services must be close in every other way, then the green credentials can serve a marketing purpose.

That we see such a huge difference between attitudes and behaviours in this area is more a reflection of the deep emotional chord ‘green’ strikes with us, and is really an opportunity that has barely been tapped into in any meaningful way for most consumers by businesses.

The eco-revolution is just starting, and it’s here to stay.