Burt's Bees, Whole Foods Top U.S. Green Brands

2010 WPP Survey: Developing Countries More Concerned About Environment

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Burt's Bees and Whole Foods lead the 2010 ImagePower Green Brands Survey's list of top 10 U.S. brands perceived to be the greenest, with Aveeno and Microsoft joining the list this year. The fifth annual study also found that in the U.S., people are more concerned about the economy than the environment, while in developing countries, such as Brazil and India, the environment takes precedence.

Green Brands 2010
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Green Brands 2010

Making the top 10 brands list in the U.S. after Burt's Bees and Whole Foods were, in order, Tom's of Maine, Trader Joe's, Google, Aveeno, S.C. Johnson, Publix, Microsoft and Ikea.

The survey, released this week, was done by WPP companies Cohn & Wolfe, Landor Associates and Penn Schoen Berland in partnership with Esty Environmental Partners, a corporate environmental strategy consultant. They did online interviews from Feb. 27 to March 24 with 9,022 people in the U.S., Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, U.K. and, for the first time, Australia.

The survey found that more than 60% of consumers around the world said they want to buy from environmentally responsible companies. In the U.S., though, 35% of those surveyed said they plan to spend more on green products, down 4% from 2009. That reflects the U.S.' focus on economic worries. "Almost 80% of the [U.S.] consumers said they were more concerned about the economy that the environment. That's the highest of any other country," says Russ Meyer, chief strategy officer for Landor, San Francisco.

In developing countries, however, the split goes the other way. Of those surveyed in Brazil, for example, 72% were concerned about the environment while 25% cited the economy. "India's got a split like that, too—59% and 32%," Meyer says. "It's interesting to see. There's a bit of a Western bias that the West is further advanced in thinking about sustainability. India, China—those economies are already on their way to mending, and not so in Europe and the Americas."

Among other key points in the study:

  • Consumers around the world expect green companies to engage in a broad set of actions, particularly reducing toxics, recycling and managing water.
  • Consumer obstacles to buying green vary by region, with consumers in the U.S., Australia, France, Germany and U.K., citing cost; consumers in Brazil and India pointing to limited selection; and consumers in China confused about green labeling.
  • More consumers in the U.S. feel energy use is the most important environmental issue than in any other country polled.

Consumers also say they are concerned that the brands claiming to be green actually are. "Consumers, particularly in China, are pushing for greater clarity and greater certification marks," Meyer says. "That shows a growing maturity among consumers that don't just [want you to] say you're green—show me some proof. Sixty-nine percent said their green labeling in confusing or not trustworthy; 72% said they rely on certification."

For marketers, the study points out green's importance to consumers. "From a brand standpoint, we asked, 'What are you looking for in a brand?'" Meyer says. "Environmentally conscious comes in fourth behind the bedrock brand values—provides good value, trustworthy, cares about its customers," he says. "It's been in that position for the past couple of years, so it says to me that's a fairly stable data set.

"I do think there are still some folks out there who think green is a fad. In the face of this economic crisis, the data point [to the fact] that this isn't something that's going away anytime soon. If you're not on top of this, you're well behind. Even though this is a perception study, as a marketer, your response isn't to just go out there with a green message. You have to start being a green brand."

With the fifth study, the results are starting to delineate a broader, deeper picture. "Now that we're doing the survey in eight countries, what we start to see is a real regional difference [as to] what their primary concerns are and where they go for information," Meyer says. "The smart marketers are going to modulate their message and modulate their product offers to reflect the regional concerns. There's an opportunity for folks who market products globally to regionalize their message.

"It's been fun over the last five years to see how sophisticated the consumer has become fairly quickly," he adds. "You're no longer able to paint green with the same brush all over the world to every consumer."

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