Study: Green Too Fringe for Mainstream

OgilvyEarth, a sustainability consultancy, studied the mainstream consumer and posted some fascinating research.  Specifically, 82% of Americans have good green intentions, while only 16% of Americans are firmly dedicated to fulfilling those green intentions — leaving 66% in the middle, the “Middle Green,” wanting to do more but not getting it done.  This deficiency between intent and action — the Green Gap — is explained with some firm solutions in a 131-page reported called Mainstream Green.

OgilvyEarth pinpoints some reasons for the Green Gap:

  • Green feels niche, not normal: 50% of Americans think green products are for “Crunchy Green Hippies” or “Rich Elitist Snobs.”
  • Green products cost too much: cost is the top obstacle, it’s like a sustainability tax, but Americans feel a social and emotional cost of feeling different or judged.
  • Green guilt turns people away: as guilt increases, Americans feel a need to retreat to the comfort of ignorance.  They give up.
  • Green is not seen as masculine: 82% of Americans feel going green is more feminine than masculine, precluding men from doing things that may be noticed.
  • Mainstream brands are favored: 73% of Americans prefer mainstream brands, making acceptance difficult for specialized companies with environmentally responsible products.
  • Carbon calculus is confounding: 82% of Americans have no idea where to start when calculating their carbon footprint.  Which means they’re detached.

Conversely, in order to close the Green Gap, OgilvyEarth provides 12 recommendations to shatter the fringe image associated with being green.  Green should be more mainstream, according to the study.  Here’s how to do it:

(1) Make it Normal – normal is sustainable and drives the popularity needed for a mass movement.

(2) Make it Personal – it’s not about what people can do for sustainability, it’s what sustainability can do for people; shift from polar bears to people.

(3) Create Better Defaults – if green is the default (e.g., IKEA charges for plastic bags), people don’t have to decide to be green.

(4) Eliminate the Sustainability Tax – Americans shouldn’t have to pay a tax for doing the right thing.

(5) Bribe Shamelessly – people love to be rewarded for good behavior (e.g., RecycleBank gives points for recycling redeemable for products).

(6) Punish Wisely – punishment like guilt and shame can be used too often and may backfire sometimes.  It should be used with care.

(7) Make Better Stuff – product innovation will help with adoption, as will high-performance green products.

(8) Lose the Crunch – sometimes the word “green” may not need to be used at all.  Marketing should be mainstream hip, not extreme hippie.

(9) Turn Male Ego-Friendly – girly green won’t do much for the manly man, so perhaps tapping in to testosterone will help in this regard.

(10) Make it Tangible – Americans need to know how to do certain things.  When green is unapproachable or complicated, it’s hard to follow.

(11) Make it Easy to Navigate – the existence of hundreds of green labels has confused Americans and lost their trust.  Transparency, truth, and simplicity should win out over “a bankrupt batch of symbols.”

(12) Tap into Hedonism over Altruism – instead of making green a self-righteous “killjoy,” Americans should enjoy themselves.  Change will happen when it’s fun or entertaining.

It’s Earth Day, what do you think?  Agree or disagree?  What will it take to make green behaviors and products more prevalent?

[+] Download the entire Mainstream Green study from OgilvyEarth.

  • Paige

    I like the way you condensed this study to the main points – which are great! :)

  • Speakeasy Live

    Just make it all green and forget about “selling” it as green. I would like to have confidence that ANY product I may want to purchase was made with the earth in mind.

    • pwil

      come back from fantasy camp and realize that green does need to be sold.

  • Bradley Short

    These are really helpful tips. Reading some of the findings from the study is disheartening, but your advice is meaningful and helpful, so thanks!

    Bradley Short

  • Laszlo Kiss

    Thank you Preston, It’s always helpful to be reminded of how blocked the mainstream public is vis-a-vis change.

    But I must say that the part about making it fun reminds me of the same concept being applied to education a little while back and how it has not been very successful. Somethings you just have to do and it may not be fun.

  • Don Carli

    If you would like to dive deeper into the findings and implications of this important study join Graceann Bennett, co-author of the “Mainstream Green” report, for a lively discussion and networking cocktail at NYU’s 11 West 42nd Street midtown location from 6-9PM EST on Monday, May 23rd:
    (Space is limited so please RSVP via the Eventbrite link below.) 

    If you can’t make it in person you can join in online via uStream and ask questions using Facebook or Twitter (no RSVP required):

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