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Buying Green Remains Selective: Survey

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More than red and gold autumn leaves are dropping this time of year. It seems the color green is also falling if it’s associated with certain environmentally friendly products.

A new survey by GfK finds that, while some aspects of sustainability are performing well, others have taken a tumble. And, as usual in this business, it comes down to one word: Price.

“Green awareness is indeed pervasive — but consumers can perceive ‘green’ claims as a negative in some contexts,” said Timothy Kenyon, director for GfK’s Green Gauge survey, in a press release.

Here’s an example of the price barrier in action. The poll found that, compared to 2008, the proportion of U.S. consumers willing to pay more for environmentally friendly alternatives has declined significantly in a variety of key areas: Electric/minimally polluting cars (down from 62% to 49%); energy efficient lightbulbs (down from 70% to 60%); biodegradable plastic packaging (down from 58% to 49%); and paper products made from recycled materials (down from 53% to 47%).

Of course, along with price, the perception of value almost certainly plays just as important a role. But bottom line is that consumers seem to be drawing a line at paying higher prices for products they deem ineffective, of marginal quality or as performing poorly.

Take heart, however. Some areas of sustainability are thriving. Think organic. For example, 73% of U.S. consumers stated they had purchased a product made from organic materials in the past 12 months, including food, household cleaning, apparel, and pet food and supplies.

The irony is that just about every green product — from organic food to electric cars — is sold with a premium and is often associated with higher prices. So where are consumers drawing the line?

That’s the big question. According to GfK researchers, understanding consumers’ triggers and the limits of their commitment to green action is essential for marketers as they develop new eco-sensitive products and services. Those who manufacture without giving a thought to price do so at their peril.

In other words, if it’s good for the environment, it better be wonderful for the wallet.

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