Consumers around the world are getting smarter about going green and are looking to buy more environmentally sensitive products in the auto, energy and technology sectors as compared to last year, according to the0 2011 ImagePower Global Green Brands Study released last week. Green household products and groceries have the highest adoption rates of all consumer-goods categories in six of the eight countries surveyed this year.
The study, now in its sixth year, surveyed more than 9,000 people in eight countries and 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 April 2 to May 3 in the U.S., Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India and the U.K.
"Early in the study, we asked consumers what green products they were looking for, and they were looking for products that were closer to them—that they put in their body or on their body," says Russ Meyer, chief strategic officer, Landor Associates, San Francisco. "They're starting to look beyond that ."
Still, Meyer says, "One of the changes that we've seen from previous years is less change than in previous years. Consumers are really getting wiser about green brands You look at the first study, and there are brands that were there because their logo was green. Today, when you look at the top five [brands in the U.S. survey], consumers have been able to sort out the ones that have been solidly green from birth."
In the U.S., the five brands perceived to be the greenest are Seventh Generation, Whole Foods, Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees and Trader Joe's. Those are followed by Walt Disney Co., S.C. Johnson, Dove and Apple, with Starbucks and Microsoft tied for No. 10.
"I find it an interesting split," Meyer says of the U.S. brand rankings. Looking at the companies in the second half of this list, "the question is , are they getting a halo just from being a big brand," he asks. "We see that with other attributes -- [big brands] tend to get credit for a lot of things that aren't necessarily in their sweet spot. The thing is , if you've got that perception, you'd better be able to live up to that and demonstrate you're worthy of that credit."
Overall, the survey found a larger split between economic and environmental areas than in past years when consumers were asked which they were more concerned about. "The economy comes up in developed countries and the environment comes up in developing countries and in Germany," Meyer says. "We didn't always see that . In the last few years, with the recession, you've seen this bifurcation develop about the economy."
On the global front, consumers say they are more concerned about the environment this year than last, with more believing the planet is on the wrong environmental track. At the same time, concern about energy use and toxics grew, with consumers in half the countries surveyed -- China, France, Germany and the U.K. -- ranking energy use as their main concern. The other half ranked climate change as their main concern, with use of chemicals, toxics and heavy metals tying that for first in Brazil.
As for which industry does the best job of protecting the environment, 18% of American and 20% of Australian consumers say the energy industry does, while consumers in Germany (19%), India (22 %), China (33%) and Brazil (22 %) point to technology. In the UK, more than 21% of consumers say the grocery store industry is the top protector of the environment.
At least one-third say they believe that it is important for companies to be environmentally conscious, but they still ranked other areas -- such as good value, reliability, product quality and customer service -- higher.
In addition, people in developed countries said cost was the biggest challenge to buying green, while in developing countries, selection and labeling were more critical. At the same time, fewer consumers said they see challenges to buying green in all countries surveyed than in past studies.
Overall, people said they plan to buy more green auto, technology and energy sector products in the coming year, with cars ranking first among intended green purchases in Brazil, China and India; technology coming in first in France and the U.S.; and energy named first in Germany. In Australia, automotive, technology and energy tied, while in the U.K., consumers ranked technology and energy first.