What the ‘Green’ Consumer Wants

Has demand for ‘green’ products and services been affected by the downturn? And what factors affect consumer decisions to buy — or not buy — green in the first place?

The leading question

What do prospective buyers of green products want now, and how should companies deliver it?

Findings
  • The demand for green products and services hasn’t been greatly cut by the recession, but green choices are now more focused on ways to save money.
  • Price is not the main obstacle when buyers consider going green. The biggest impediment is consumers’ lack of awareness of green product alternatives.
  • Many companies are afraid to educate buyers about green options for fear of being called “greenwashers.”

Where is the “green”-goods consumer? Alive and well despite the recession, according to “Capturing the Green Advantage: What Green Consumers Want and How to Deliver It,” the theme of a special exploration thread at MIT Sloan Management Review online, which began running earlier this spring.

The thread was triggered by a 2008 research report coauthored by Catherine Roche, a partner and managing director in the Düsseldorf office of The Boston Consulting Group Inc. Here in this version from the print edition of the Review, we extract highlights from the online thread, including key data from the consumer survey, thoughts from expert commentators and excerpts from a conversation with Roche about what has — and has not — changed since her report was initially made public. Among her main points: (1) price is not the obstacle when consumers consider green purchases, (2) green programs motivate and engage employees, and (3) companies are reluctant to publicize their green (or sustainability) efforts for fear they’ll be accused of “greenwashing.”

For Roche’s entire interview, see “Capturing the Green Advantage”. There you’ll also find other features in the special thread, including a summary and link to the complete research report, an interview with Georges Kern, CEO of the venerable watchmaker IWC International Watch Co. Ag. in Schaffhausen, Switzerland about his company’s green initiatives and a virtual roundtable with comments on the topic by CEOs and experts. For the following interview, Catherine Roche spoke with the Review’s editor-in-chief, Michael S. Hopkins.

AWARENESS AND CHOICE

Many companies believe that higher prices keep consumers from purchasing green products, but BCG’s findings show that price is rarely the main obstacle. In fact, it ranks lower as a barrier to green sales than lack of awareness of green alternatives or lack of choice.

View Exhibit

Your survey was done in July 2008.

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