Sustainability comes with some very heavy responsibilities, but companies that ethically tend to their environmental affairs are rewarded with unprecedented marketing opportunities.
A recent report by Information Resources Inc. supports the idea that there's tangible benefits to be had. One-fifth of the 22,000 consumers polled said they were “sustainability-driven,” requiring a product or service to have at least two eco-friendly components before they make a purchase. All age groups are active in the trend, according to IRI's research. Surprisingly, what might be considered a youth movement actually gets its muscle from consumers age 55 and older, since they have both the time to seek out these special-claims items and the money to pay the premiums usually associated with them, the report states.
The outlook is brightest for organics, since the category combines the better-for-you message with environmentally friendly production methods.
“The organic designation has moved to the front of consumer consciousness,” observed Andrew Salzman, IRI's chief marketing officer.
If there was one caveat in the report, however, it's that any business looking to expand its green marketing presence should restrict its effort to claims that are well documented and measurable. Any half-planned initiatives or stretches of the truth, and companies might find themselves featured on grassroots websites like www.greenwashingindex.com, where consumers are invited to rate the truthfulness of company commercials that make sustainability claims.
For retailers, the issue is complicated by the fact that a supermarket is both showcase and merchandiser. Here, stores promote not only their own sustainability programs, they are vendors of green items and services, such as natural detergents, organic foods and wind-power credits.