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Bridging the Green Gap

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Despite their belief in helping the environment through purchasing “green” products, shopper attitudes are always subject to change when voting with their own dollars. As my editor Bob recently tweeted: Keep up the good work, but don’t make me pay for it.

dollars.jpgMarketers and researchers have grown wise to this phenomenon. They call it the “green gap”, and there’s a lot of effort going into figuring out how to bridge it.

Unfortunately, things are looking pretty cynical right now. According to the Green Gauge Report from research firm GfK, which has tracked opinions on the environment for the past 20 years, only one-third of consumers say the environment should be a top priority right now. That’s down from 39% last year and 46% in 2007, just before the recession hit.

This is understandable, and certainly not unexpected given the high level of unemployment right now. Companies like Whole Foods seem to have adjusted to the swing, and are focusing on price and value over feel-good save-the-rainforest messaging.

In the end, I think it’s a good thing to see whole health brands down in the trenches, duking it out over price. For too long these products have seemed aloof or unattainable to mainstream consumers.

But companies shouldn’t stray too far from feel-good environmental messaging amidst all the belt-tightening out there. That’s their bread and butter, after all, and it’s what sets them apart in the marketplace. What seems to be working, according to the Green Gauge Report, are simple, practical steps like drinking tap instead of bottled water and carrying around a reusable bag. Sorry, endangered lemur family.

It’s disheartening, sure, to learn that all the environmental enthusiasm has dampened. It’s good in a way, though, because it paints a more realistic picture of what companies are up against. Going green is cool, and consumers want to be a part of the movement. But it has to be practical for them.

Like it or not, that’s the way it is. That’s what the industry has to build upon.

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