Interview with Sharon Greene of RISC: Companies Need to Understand Positive Consumption

Posted on 03. Dec, 2009 by in Interviews, Services


I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Sharon Greene, Managing Director of global trends and consumer behavior consultancy, RISC International. Unfortunately, she was unable to attend the conference due to pneumonia, from which she has now recovered. She was gracious enough to give a phone interview with revealing insights into what she would have shared at the OG09 ‘What’s Hot, What’s Not, What’s Next’ panel.

Based in Paris, France, Sharon and RISC have extensively researched views of European consumers in comparison to U.S. consumers on what they expect from companies and products in terms of “greenness”. She has many interesting examples to give with RISC data from ten countries across Europe, the emerging markets and the US to show that this is a growing trend in consumer wishes.

RISC has identified a new trend called Positive Consumption, which shows that consumers today have multifaceted needs when buying a product: health effects, ethics, social responsibility and corporate fairness in addition to green values (described after ASCENT figures below). Sharon also shared some of the revealing changes in consumer attitudes in RISC’s Annual Scan of Consumer Evolutions and New Trends (the ASCENT program).

ASCENT and Positive Consumption in the US:
The figures quoted below come from the ASCENT program which is an annual survey containing up to 500 questions which is administered to over 30,000 respondents around the world (5 European Markets – UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the US and the BRIC- Brazil, Russia, India, China). The questions asked covered areas such as life values (attitudes on family, work, friendship, money, community, religion and so forth) lifestyle behaviors, and attitude consumption behaviors and attitudes and a significant convergence technology sector which studies the increasing importance of technology as a vector of social change around the world.

- The desire to do something to help protect the environment has been on the increase in the US since 2004 when only 27% of the population agreed that they shared this desire today it is over 40%. Although the dynamic is positive, we can compare the same figure for Europe where the corresponding figure is over 56%

- The need to look at what products are made of and concern for the effect of products on health have been on the increase since 2002 and have risen from 56% to 70% over the period observed.

- The wish to contribute to society is equally in a very positive dynamic in the US, having increased from 41% in 2006 to 55% today.

- 56% of Americans say that they pay attention to the way they live in order to feel good, this has increased from 40% on 2004

- 47% of Americans agree that they purchase more and more organic food and 57% declare that they try to choose natural products.

RISC’s Positive Consumption Levels Excerpts:
Ecological Effects:

The ecological facet of Positive Consumption is characterized by an active concern for environmental issues. The French already display high levels of involvement on green issues, and this trend is increasing. Other European countries are following suit. Japan is also a major source of eco-innovations and paving the way for eco-behaviors. Americans, on the other hand, are currently less involved, but the trend is growing.

Health Effects:
The health dimension reflects concerns for the effects that products can have on our health. According to RISC, Europeans and the Japanese consumers are ahead on this trend, while US consumers are catching up, and awareness is rising in BRIC countries. For instance, 82% of Europeans (84% in Italy) consider healthy eating to be the best medicine.

The ethical aspects of consumption involve preference for ethical businesses, and a declared feeling of guilt associated with buying from unethical companies. Ethical concerns are strong and growing in most countries, with the notable exceptions of Russia and China. With the current economic crisis, companies might be tempted to overlook ethical standards. This would be a mistake however, since the crisis has also shown the limits of what consumers perceive as “immoral” forms of capitalism. This goes some way into explaining why, although consensus is building around the necessity to enforce ethical rules, consumers aren’t ready to bear the costs of fair trade an responsible production: in the U.S., since 2005 the willingness to pay 10% more for fair trade products has dropped from 62% to 52%. It has also dropped in Europe, as well. Underlining this decrease is an increasing belief that ethical behavior by producer/manufacturer should be a standard and not an excuse to make the consumer pay more.

Feel Good:
The feel good side to Positive Consumption is characterized by an aspiration towards enhancing individual well-being. US consumers are particularly involved in active forms of self-care, a trend which is also growing in European countries and particularly in France, where for instance the Wii Fit has been topping the sales of video games since its release in April 2008. More passive forms of self-care such as spas, massages and relaxation are preferred in Japan and the BRIC countries.

Further, Sharon discussed how relevant this Positive Consumption is in the current economic crisis. This is a moment of truth for businesses, she says. Success will be granted to those who adapt rapidly, otherwise they risk disappearing from “the storm”. Positive Consumption is the new reality. Businesses must understand how to translate these aspirations into a concrete offer and create value for the customer if they want to use this understanding for growth and innovation – as well as changing the world for the better.

RISC advises multinational companies such as Nokia, Philips, L’Oreal, Lacoste, Yves Rocher, and Proctor and Gamble on how to better communicate with the positive consumer. Sharon is a regular participant at many global green events and regularly contributes to major media outlets such as Marketing Week and the BBC.

To find out more information about RISC and their research, visit

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2 Responses to “Interview with Sharon Greene of RISC: Companies Need to Understand Positive Consumption”

  1. JGreene65

    08. Aug, 2011

    Great read. Thanks!

  2. Global Sherpa

    29. Aug, 2011

    The BRIC countries are promising engines of economic growth, international development and globalization. Recent data on BRIC countries’ consumer spending habits reveal interesting insights about consumer behavior and priorities in each emerging market. China and Brazil present two very different patterns of consumer behavior. Chinese demonstrate a strong inclination to delay current consumption in favor of saving for the future, regardless of income level. Brazilians, on the other hand, put a higher priority on living for the present by devoting a considerably larger share of income to discretionary spending. On average, Chinese report saving 31 percent of income. Brazilians save a relatively modest 10 percent, the lowest level of the four BRIC countries. The large share of households earning less than the equivalent of $1,000 (US$, PPP) per month in the BRIC and other selected countries skews consumer spending toward essential goods and services at current levels of economic development. Overall, the high degrees of consumer confidence and rapid economic development across the BRIC countries is an encouraging sign of their capacity to sustain and grow the global economy and contribute to rising living standards around the world. (Source: Global Sherpa)

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