Tech Consumers Consider Greenness When Buying Products

But Only Most Devoted Will Pay More for Eco-Friendly Goods

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- It's not easy being green, especially if you're a tech company making products that contain toxic ingredients such as lead, mercury, cadmium and bromine.
Toyota created a green brand, the Prius, but other marketers don't need to go that far, says the author of a new Forrester study.
Toyota created a green brand, the Prius, but other marketers don't need to go that far, says the author of a new Forrester study.

That doesn't mean consumers don't want you to try.

More than half of Americans are concerned about environmental issues such as global warming, and 40% say they would consider environmental issues when purchasing their next computer or TV, according to a new Forrester study, "In Search of Green Technology Consumers."

'Bright greens'
However, it is only the most devoted green consumers among them -- 12%, or roughly 25 million Americans -- who say they're willing to pay more for green tech products -- a segment the study's main author, Christopher Mines, called "bright greens."

"What I'm proposing to manufacturers is there's an opportunity to break out of the pack with a product or a product line," Mr. Mines said. "Twelve percent is a big enough audience to shoot for."

While he agreed that electronic companies might have a more difficult time establishing themselves as green, he said, "All things, not just electronics, operate on a spectrum of green. It's not, 'Are you or aren't you?' but 'Can you get better?'"

As example, he pointed to Toyota, which makes the Prius hybrid in addition to the gas-guzzling Tundra truck.

Going green by degrees
While Toyota's method creates a totally green brand for its portfolio, another possibility for electronics companies could be to venture into green by degrees.

"If you're a green hard-liner, you don't buy anything electronic because with everything that goes into it -- the energy that it takes to build, the concentration of toxic elements -- those things are essentially automatic violations of green principles," said Roger Kay, an analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. "The semi-soft green view is 'Well, it's something you're going to do anyway, so why not be more green?' So if you get rid of the lead, that's a good thing."

In the Forrester study, the demographics of the kind of consumer who would buy greener electronics was not the young post-college organic-food devotee one might imagine, Mr. Mines said.

The bright-green consumers, on average, are 51, have a household income of $62,500 and tend to be more brand loyal and more willing to tell friends about products than others. They are also more often Democrats and spend time gardening. Mr. Mines said his team is currently researching more about this group, such as what media they consume, where are they travel online and what telecommunications they use. In essence, where can marketers reach them?

"That's the challenge. Here's a segment; now where should you put the ads to reach them?" Mr. Mines said.

Those who care little
What was also startling in the Forrester study is the majority of Americans who care little about the environmental impact of electronics. About 58% were neutral or disagreed that they were concerned about old electronics ending up in landfills. Another 65% to 70% said they would not pay 10% more for electronics that were more energy efficient or environmentally friendly. Overall, almost half or 47% of Americans said they are neutral or disagree with general concerns about the environment or global warming.

To Mr. Kay, that syncs with his own observation: "Green stuff is yeah, yeah, nice and all that, but when it comes down to it they want price and performance. What does it cost and what can it do for me?"

Still, Forrester's Mr. Mines believes that the people who do care about the green-ness of an electronics company can be converted to buyers, and loyal ones, with the right products and marketing.

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research, agreed. "The wise technology company will realize there is a trend here. It's important to a certain segment of the market. ... In a commoditized market, it could become a fairly good way to differentiate yourself from the competition, and [it could be] good for your corporate image. No one wants to be at the bottom of the green list."

But no matter what tactic electronics marketers take concerning green, they should be careful not to push it too far, Mr. Kay said.

"The bottom line in messaging is it's OK to be green, but don't lean too heavily on it because people are cynical about it. And don't ask people to applaud you for it, because you really should have been doing it all along anyway," he said. "In perspective, you're not really that green."
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