Last Updated Oct 28, 2008 7:30 AM EDT
Here's a quiz: which of the following environmental terms resonates most strongly with consumers:
a ) Conservation
c) Energy Efficiency
If you answered "b) Green" -- you're wrong! The answer is c) Energy Efficiency. That's according to Suzanne Shelton of Shelton Group, who conducts annual surveys of consumer attitudes toward environmental issues. Shelton's research indicates that only 61.5% of consumers have a positive association with the word "green," 63.5 percent feel positively about "sustainable," 74% feel positively about "conservation" and a whopping 88.2% feel positively about "energy efficiency."
Why? Because it's a term they can understand. "Energy efficiency" means turning off the lights, lowering the thermostat, buying a hybrid car, and so on -- things consumers can actually do. But what does "green" mean? It can be all things to all people, Shelton says, and consumers already see through the hype -- that "green" is mostly a marketing buzzword designed to boost sales.
Other excellent tidbits from Shelton's top-rate presentation at the PRSA International Conference in Detroit:
- Consumers are "armchair environmentalists" -- they can see lots of things other people should do, but don't want to do much themselves, unless it's easy and saves them money
- People don't know what the right things to do are -- there's an unmet need for a credible third-party to certify products and services that are good for the environment
- Consumers currently associate "energy efficient" and "green" with "more expensive"
- The economy is definitely having an effect: in 2007, consumers said that the first thing they would do if they had an extra $10,000 to put into their homes would be to replace flooring and countertops; in 2008, it was replace windows and upgrade their heating and cooling systems to save energy
- Most consumers know enough about sustainability and environmentally friendly products and services to "get through a cocktail party," but that's about all
And here's the kicker of kickers: do you know what is the largest source of greenhouse gases? It's not personal cars and trucks or even all of the transportation sector -- it's coal-burning electricity generation. That's right -- the whole push to do things virtually and plugging in is actually worse for the environment, as a whole, than getting in our cars or taking an airplane.