Bridging the Gap Between Green and Mainstream. How Important is a Green Lifestyle to You?

Posted on 04. May, 2011 by in Business & Policy, Products

If you’re the average American, there’s a wide gap between your green intentions and the steps you take to make your lifestyle more sustainable. According to a new, potentially game-changing study by Ogilvy Earth (“Mainstream Green: Moving Sustainability from niche to normal”), 82% of Americans claim to have good green intentions, but only 16% are dedicated to fulfilling those intentions.

The Mainstream Green study uncovers why sustainability initiatives and eco-marketing campaigns have failed to appeal to the 66% of Americans with good green intentions but little personal commitment to sustainability. Understanding and engaging this “Green Middle” is essential to closing the gap between consumers’ green intentions and their commitment to personal sustainability.


The Findings:
Researchers identified a range of areas where eco-marketing has fallen short. American consumers tend to view environmentally friendly products as niche and non-mainstream, catering to “Crunch Granola Hippies” or “Rich Elitist Snobs.” Many green products are priced higher than their “regular” counterparts, reinforcing the perception that green products are exclusive and not for the average person. When it comes to purchasing higher priced alternatives, most consumers are unwilling to pay a green “sustainability tax.” The average consumer sees green products as being “made for someone else, not me.”

Green marketing is failing to reach American males. Eighty-two percent of study participants claimed that going green was “more feminine than masculine.” Eighty-five percent of participants also see women as more involved than men on sustainability issues. Feminization of the green movement, or at least the perception that green is girly, prevents men from pursuing personal sustainability. Men are less likely than women to use reusable grocery bags, carry reusable water bottles, and drive hybrid vehicles.

Manufacturers and eco-marketers have failed to motivate the Green Middle to go green. Nearly half of Americans feel guilty about their lifestyle choices, but emphasizing a product’s environmental benefits does little to motivate consumers to purchase eco-friendly products. As it turns out, the more Americans learn about their environmental impacts, the more they want to remain ignorant. Appealing to Americans’ altruism may be backfiring on marketers, pushing the average American to reject sustainability.

How to Mainstream Green
Identifying how to properly engage the American consumer is vital to mainstreaming sustainability. Ignoring the Green Middle could cement the perception that green is niche, elitist, and feminine. The study’s co-authors, Graceann Bennet and Freya Williams, identify several ways to mainstream green going forward, including making green more inclusive, price competitive, less girly, and more personal to American consumers.

Stella Artois vs. Budweiser
Bennet and Williams claim that eco-marketing campaigns have failed to make green inclusive. The authors contend that green products have been marketed like Stella Artois—niche, exclusive, and sophisticated. Green products need to be more Budweiser—inclusive, communal, and for the average person. American consumers aren’t looking to distinguish themselves by going green; they just want to fit in. 

Normalize Green
Pricing green products competitively with non-green products is essential to making green accessible. Most consumers are unwilling to pay a premium for green. The higher cost of hybrid automobiles, for instance, deters many consumers from purchasing these vehicles. Eliminating the “sustainability tax” would make going green more accessible and attainable for the average consumer.

Bennet and Williams also note that there’s a social stigma to purchasing green products. Many consumers are unwilling to appear “holier-than-thou” or super-environmental when making purchases. The authors suggest advertisers abandon marketing products as green and instead appeal to consumers’ hedonistic preferences by marketing products as fun, exciting and useful.

Less Girly
Eco-marketing must do a better job appealing to men. The authors point to how BMW has marketed their flex-fuel vehicle to men by promoting the vehicle’s design and performance and downplaying the vehicle’s environmental benefits. Male consumers want products that appear macho, not girly. Promoting the masculinity of green products will help marketers appeal to the average male.

More Personal
When Americans were asked whether they would prefer to cure cancer or fix the environment, 70% chose to cure cancer. When the same question was asked in China, 70% of respondents preferred to fix the environment. In China the environment is seen as very personal, tangible, and human. Conversely, the environment in America is abstract; it’s polar bears, forests, and invisible carbon molecules. To mainstream green, the environment must be relatable to average Americans. Just as people can identify cancer with a friend or family member, the environment must become relatable to people on a personal, intimate level.

The broad takeaway from the Mainstream Green study is that eco-marketing is failing to appeal to the majority of green intentioned Americans. The future success of sustainability initiatives and green products will hinge on how effectively marketers can motivate Americans to go green. Only by making personal sustainability more attractive to the Green Middle can green become mainstream.

To learn more about bringing green to the mainstream check out these additional links:

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3 Responses to “Bridging the Gap Between Green and Mainstream. How Important is a Green Lifestyle to You?”

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  2. Casey

    06. May, 2011

    Excellent article- I particularly liked the cultural comparisons between the US and China and how that completely changes the perception of “green.”

  3. Opportunity Green Conference

    17. Jun, 2011

    Interesting study by OgilvyEarth! Do you agree…Is ‘green’ girly?

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