SHOPPERS CONCERNED about the environment would like to know that the retail store where they buy their food shares their concern.
That's why when Hannaford Bros.  opened its first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified store in Augusta, Maine, last year, it dedicated a large area near the entrance to educating consumers about its environmental efforts.
“Some green shoppers are impressed with the outward expression of environmental initiatives — the fact that a store uses solar panels to heat 80% of its water, for example,” said Bill Bishop, chairman of Willard Bishop, Barrington, Ill.
“If you go in an Aldi  store, they have detailed explanation about why everything refrigerated is behind glass or plastic, and you are much more forgiving when you know it is for a good cause,” he said. “In Fresh & Easy, the employees are very knowledgeable about how they use LED lights to save energy, and they can tell you that the light switches go off in the back room when they are not in there.”
Such initiatives lend “a positive aura” to supermarkets, Bishop explained, although he added that he does not think supermarkets are receiving as much credit as they could for making these efforts.
“One of the best opportunities might be to figure out ways to communicate that to the customers, because a lot of us are doing more than most people realize,” he said.
He also noted the overlap between consumers interested in buying local and organic products and those interested in other “green” activities.
At the Hannaford Bros. LEED location, employees were given extensive training about the various energy-friendly design elements there, such as its elaborate, environmentally sensitive cooling systems and its use of recycled materials.
To educate consumers, the store includes a detailed display at the front of the store, divided into sustainability initiatives surrounding “people, product and planet,” which coordinates with the sustainability theme of the chain's Brussels-based parent company, Delhaize Group.
“Everything that we educated our associates on, our customers have at their fingertips as well,” Ruben Lemelin, the store's manager, explained to SN when the location opened last year.
The chain also sent out printed material explaining the store's environmental sustainability efforts with its ad fliers when it first opened and gave out some 60,000 reusable bags to increase awareness.
In addition to the extensive display near the store's entrance, customers are also encouraged to visit an area on the chain's website that includes educational information about the store.
With about 77% of consumers saying they make at least some “green” purchases, it's clear this is a large group with broad demographic characteristics. The group tends to be born after about 1950, surveys suggest, and is likely to be more affluent than the average consumer.
Knoxville, Tenn.-based Shelton Group, an ad agency that specializes in green products, conducted a survey last year of green consumers and divided them into two “mindsets,” based on their devotion to the green cause.
“The Engaged Green Mindset is marked by optimism, extroversion and a propensity to try new things — and is more likely to respond to themes of innovation and possibility,” wrote Suzanne Shelton, founder, president and chief executive officer of the Shelton Group. “The Mainstream Green Mindset is more pessimistic, introverted and apt to like things known and tried — responding to themes of security and reliability.”
The Shelton Group study, called “Green Living Pulse,” suggested that the key to reaching green consumers is to make an emotional appeal, rather than laying out a scientific rationale for choosing green products.
“Even people who buy green struggle to define how carbon dioxide affects the environment,” Shelton wrote in the report. “People don't have to understand all of the technical aspects of an issue to be concerned about it.”
As the flood of Earth Day announcements last month showed, retailers are becoming more aware of the positive image of being green.
Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart Stores  has taken the lead in this area, and last year launched an effort to chronicle the complete lifecycle of every product it sells to make that information available to consumers. Wal-Mart said that by taking the lead on this initiative, the company better positions itself among younger demographics.
“This is our opportunity to connect with the next generation,” said John Fleming, chief merchandising officer, Wal-Mart, when the Sustainability Index initiative was launched last year. “We may never be cool, but we care, and we can make a difference.”