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Many Americans claim to care about protecting the planet, but their buying behavior doesn't always reflect that concern. This month's exclusive survey, conducted for American Demographics by eNation, an omnibus research solution of Arlington Heights, Ill.-based market research firm Synovate, reveals a number of contradictions between what people say and how they actually live their lives.

In a nationally representative poll of 1,000 adults, fielded online between August 13 and 18, 2003, 80 percent of Americans say that whether or not a product is safe for the environment does influence their decision to buy that product. Plus, 70 percent say they are more likely to buy a product if the company that makes it is known to implement environmentally friendly practices in its operations. Yet, despite these claims, only a tad over half of consumers (57 percent) assert that they buy recycled or environmentally safe products, and a mere 6 percent regularly bother to research companies' environmental track records.

Older Americans, while not entirely unified in their eco beliefs, seem to be the best consumers of environmentally friendly products, according to the eNation/American Demographics survey. Two-thirds of adults over age 45 say they regularly buy such products, compared with less than half of the younger age groups. Almost 9 in 10 older Americans claim that a product's environmental safeness bears on their decision to buy that product. Mature consumers are also more likely to buy products from companies with a reputation for environmentally safe operating practices. A majority (78 percent) of 55- to 64-year-olds, and 76 percent of those 65 and older, say that the measures an organization takes to practice environmental safety make a difference, compared with only 60 percent of consumers ages 25 to 35. And while a majority of Americans (71 percent) say they never bother to research companies' environmental records, 42 percent of those 65 and older report they probe the corporate eco practices at least once in a while, whereas only a quarter (25 percent) of 18- to 24-year-olds ever do a lick of investigation.

Older Americans are also more likely than other demographic groups to practice environmentally conscious behaviors. More than half (58 percent) of men and women ages 55 to 64, and 46 percent of consumers age 65 and older, say that they always recycle cans and bottles, compared with 39 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds. Yet, save recycling, older Americans aren't as Earth-friendly as they seem. For instance, mature consumers are more likely than younger ones to buy Styrofoam or plastic dining products and order from print catalogs.

On the other hand, Gen Y — in this survey defined as those between ages 25 and 34 — seems to be the cohort most blasé about the impact that consumer choices may or may not have on the environment. Our survey finds that they are the least likely age group to regularly buy recycled or environmentally safe products and the least likely to research the environmental practices of companies and make purchasing decisions based on those findings.

To get apathetic consumers to start buying green products, our survey finds that impressing a brand image works best. Almost half of consumers (46 percent) who do not currently buy recycled or environmentally safe products say that they don't do so because they like to stick to familiar brands, and environmental brands fail to show up on their radar screens. Another challenge: Skepticism. More than a quarter (29 percent) of non-green consumers disbelieve that such products are really safer for the environment, and 26 percent say they are too expensive. Other constricting factors include difficulty accessing such products (18 percent), not knowing where to go to buy them (12 percent) and feeling that the quality isn't as good as other products (12 percent).

The biggest impediment green marketers face, however, is changing individuals' attitudes about the role they play in environmental protection. While 64 percent of Americans believe that doing their part to recycle and buying environmentally safe products can help make a difference, more than a third remain unconvinced. Seventeen percent of Americans don't think that anything they do personally will make a difference, cynically holding that it is up to big business and the government to tackle the problem. This sense of futility is felt the most among today's youngest consumers, with almost a quarter of both the 18- to 24-year-old and 25- to 34-year-old respondents agreeing with the statement.

An additional 18 percent of Americans assert that the “environmental movement� has been blown out of proportion and that the products they use are not hurting the environment. This attitude is also more prevalent among younger consumers, as well as among men (23 percent versus 14 percent of women), and the affluent (20 percent of those with household incomes above $75,000 agree with the statement, compared with 12 percent of those making under $25,000 a year).

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