Forget ‘Dark Green’ Shoppers – ‘New Consumers’ Will Drive Sustainability, Report Says

by | Mar 25, 2011

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Brands can no longer rely on “dark green”, hyper-ethical consumers to drive the growth of sustainability, but must engage a broad swathe of consumers making up 30 percent of the market, according to new research.

Brand consulting firm BBMG said a group of 70 million shoppers branded “New Consumers”, making up 30 percent of the U.S. population, will help sustainable brands to enter the mainstream while forcing large brands to accelerate their adoption of environmental initiatives.

These shoppers are “values aspirational” because they are as interested in sustainability as the hard-core “dark green” consumers. But they are also “practical purchasers” because they are forced to make pragmatic trade-offs every day, according to the BBMG report, Unleashed: How New Consumers Will Revolutionize Brands and Scale Sustainability.

Previously BBMG’s research focused on Conscious Consumers, whose purchasing is driven by deep-rooted environmental and social values. But major economic and societal changes have forced all consumers to make compromises, BBMG says. And at the same time, mainstream shoppers have become more concerned with and educated about the environment.

New Consumers are defined less by demographics than by shared values, BBMG said (although it did provide a demographic breakdown of New Consumers, above left). They are twice as likely to try new things, share their opinions online and reward or punish brands based on corporate practices. Even during the recession, 25 percent are willing to pay more for sustainable alternatives, BBMG said.

“For brands to take sustainability to scale, they can no longer rely on the dark green consumer. Instead, they need to engage New Consumers, who are just as concerned about the environment but also realistic about factors like price, performance, convenience, health and safety,” said Raphael Bemporad, BBMG’s Chief Strategy Officer.

New Consumers are taking steps to re-evaluate their purchasing, however, by opting for do-it-yourself solutions or choosing to enjoy experiences instead of buying new goods, the report said. Many are moving from “gateway purchases” such as organic, local foods to major purchases such as energy-saving appliances, fair-trade apparel and environmentally responsible travel.

BBMG found that New Consumers are skeptical, with less than four percent turning to company advertising to verify product claims. But once they find a product that they trust, they become fiercely loyal, and that loyalty will be instrumental in bringing green brands to the mainstream, BBMG said.

In the U.K., just seven percent of consumers take companies at their word on their actions to reduce climate impacts, according to a new report from the U.K.’s Carbon Trust.

But another study out this week found that American consumers continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising – such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” – giving products a greener halo than they may deserve.

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