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Globally, concern for the environment is rising – and this has implications for brands

by Tim Kenyon , 10.05.2017

Breaking news -- people like clean air and water!

Now get the fainting couch -- sometimes people may even think about the environment when making a purchase decision!

Sarcasm aside, it is easy to become jaded about people’s true levels of engagement with the environment and how this translates into purchase decisions.

We’ve been tracking these fickle attitudes towards environmental consciousness, a.k.a. ‘green’ awareness, since the early 1970s, through GfK MRI’s Survey of the American Consumer® and the GfK Consumer Life Worldwide Study.

Generally, attitudes towards the environment track fairly closely with the state of the economy, i.e. good economy equals more concern for the environment, people willing to pay or make sacrifices for ‘green’ products.

Environmental concern rising in markets around the world

Currently, we are seeing the tide of environmental concern rise in many markets around the world.  From GfK’s Consumer Life Worldwide Study, averaged across 18 countries, 34% cite environmental pollution as one of the three things they are most concerned about.  This is up from 26% in 2011 and is now the #3 concern, behind “money enough to live right and pay the bills” (36% in 2016) and “inflation and high prices” (35% in 2016).

In the US, recent GfK MRI data shows people increasingly see global warming as a serious threat.  It is important to note, however, that buying behavior for selected categories – mostly home products like light bulbs and cleaning liquids -- has remained flat since 2010, according to GfK MRI.  Still, concern/awareness is up, which can be a precursor to increased purchasing behavior.

So what does this mean for brands?  Here are three considerations to guide your efforts:

  1. Consider how (not if) environmental responsibility fits into your brands DNA. Remember, the environment may not be a major purchase driver for certain products or your target audience. For example, a ‘green’ laundry detergent will hold a different position in the minds of consumers when compared with other products. Still, regardless of your brand’s proposition,  you are not off the hook, though what you address and how you communicate efforts may differ.
  2. What shade of green is your customer? There are persistent and wide variations in awareness and concern among different groups – generations, parents versus non-parents, even pet owners and non-pet-owners.  For example, in the US, GfK MRI shows that consumers are slightly more likely now than in 2010 to give up convenience in return for a product that is environmentally safe – a trend more pronounced among 18 to 24 year olds. Knowing how important environmental responsibility is to your target group could prove a key to market success.
  3. Think beyond your product. It isn’t just about what people buy, but also what they do (e.g., recycling, consuming less overall). Educate and inspire consumers in ways that go beyond making a purchase to impact their experience with your brand.

Though some might believe otherwise, we are indeed in a period of rising environmental concern. The question is, will brands see this as an opportunity to connect.

Tim Kenyon is Vice President on the Consumer Life team at GfK. He can be reached at tim.kenyon@gfk.com.