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THE GREEN CONSUMER

By

Green marketing is one of the hottest trends being used by marketers these days. In 1989 it barely existed, but by 1990 it was all the rage. In the past decade, Americans have displayed an increasing concern for the environment as they begin to realize it is slowly deteriorating. More than seventy percent of the 180 million tons of trash disposed each year in the United States is buried in landfills, and the landfills are reaching capacity. On top of this, the hole in the ozone layer continues to grow larger, threatening numerous amounts of people with skin cancer. In response, companies must begin to make changes to their products, their claims, packaging, and manufacturing processes in order to offer consumers a cleaner and safer environment.

Some companies have already started to engage in “green marketing activities.” For example, Procter and Gamble is now packaging Tide, Cheer, Era, and Dash in bottles made of twenty five percent recycled plastic and has introduced the first ever concentrated fabric softener refill package. Many other companies have also jumped on the new environmental marketing bandwagon.

The problem with green marketing has been that the sales of these products have not met the expectations most companies had envisioned. One reason for this problem is that green products often cost more than non-green products. Therefore, consumers are simply not responding because their economic interests are outweighing their environmental concerns (Hanf & Jansen ch 6). The second reason for these lackluster sales can be attributed to the consumer’s views toward the credibility of the green product industry. The public is becoming increasingly skeptical over green efforts as company after companies are brought up on charges for overstating their products environmental friendliness. A survey of college students was taken to determine who the green consumers actually are and what green activities should be pursued to increase stagnating sales.

The survey sample compromised of one hundred West Virginia University students. These students were randomly selected.

The West Virginia University students we polled were asked to answer three personal questions so that a respondent profile could be established. Respondents were asked to indicate their sex, education level, and what political party they were affiliated with. An equal amount, fifty males and fifty females, responded to the questionnaire. The largest number of respondents accounted for were seniors at forty percent. The juniors were the second largest group surveyed at twenty-nine percent, followed by freshmen at fourteen percent, sophomores at twelve percent, and graduate students at five percent. Politically, thirty-one percent of those surveyed claimed to be democrats, twenty-eight percent to be independent, twenty-five to be republican, and sixteen percent claimed to have no interest in politics at all.

The respondents were asked to report their concerns for the environment to help determine if engaging in green marketing is a good technique to influence purchasing decisions. The results concluded consumers had enough concern about the environment for green marketing to be successful. Sixty-six of the students we surveyed felt they were at least somewhat concerned about the environment, with an additional twenty-five indicating that they were very concerned. Therefore, an overwhelming ninety-one percent of students had an interest in protecting the environment.

Seventy-nine percent of the students polled normally purchased environmentally concerned products over normal products. Females tended to make ten percent more of these purchases than men did. Since, a large amount of respondents purchased green products more often than non-green products, I wondered if the same decision would be made if the cost of these green products were higher than normal products. I expected the majority of students to say they would not pay more for green products since students generally have limited disposable incomes. However, we were proven wrong because eighty-six percent of the students we polled were willing to pay an extra amount for environmentally safer products. The majority of these individuals, fifty-seven percent, said they would be willing to pay an additional one to five percent for these products. Another twenty-six percent were actually willing to spend six to ten percent extra! After concluding consumers would spend more for environmentally safer products, I wondered what benefit consumers wanted most for this added cost. What we discovered was that a combination of biodegradability, recyclability, reusability, photo-degradability, animal free testing, and the use of less packaging was most important to the consumer. However, if companies need to focus their marketing plans on one benefit it should be recyclability since it was preferred the most at thirty-four percent.

More and more students are getting involved in recycling programs. Approximately fifty-six percent of respondents claimed to recycle waste materials on a regular basis. The majority of these consumers, sixty percent, recycled aluminum most frequently. Plastic was the second most frequently recycled waste material at twenty percent, followed by paper at sixteen percent, and glass at four percent.

The results from the survey conclude there is a large amount of consumer concern for the environment. We suggest marketers pay attention to two important recommendations in order to be successful at green marketing. First, in order to increase stagnating sales, marketers should focus on packaging their products in recyclable materials. However, this packaging cannot be made of just any recyclable material. If the marketer wants to ensure that the recyclable packaging benefit will work, he/she should use aluminum since consumers prefer it the most. In addition, if the product is traditionally purchased most by females, the benefit of animal-free testing should be stressed. The reason we concluded this was because thirty four percent of the females we surveyed said animal-free testing was the most important environmental benefit to them when making a purchasing decision. The second way marketers can generate greater profits is to increase prices on green products, since eighty-six percent of consumers polled indicated they would pay extra for an environmentally safer commodity. However, this price change should not be greater than one to five percent in the introductory stages. If sales still continue to escalate after the initial price raise, an additional price increase of no more than ten percent can be slowly implemented. I think suggest marketers implement this pricing strategy slowly, because a drastic price will be noticed by the consumer, and ultimately lead him/her to purchase a different brand. Now that marketers know how to sell their product, we will suggest the target market they should sell these products to. Our survey did not specifically pinpoint who the typical environmental consumer was. However, it did conclude that the green consumer is not gender specific. Approximately an equal number of college males and females indicated they had strong feelings toward purchasing green products. Therefore, we suggest that the college student may be a profitable target market for green manufacturers since ninety percent of college students polled indicated they made purchasing decisions based on environmental concerns. We also found out these purchases are not affected by the political party who is in office. Therefore, it would be beneficial for marketers who have not already engaged in some type of green marketing to do so immediately since the upcoming election will have no negative effects on the amount of green products consumers purchase. The one area where marketers may want to research more is the correlation between education level and environmental concern. We found out that nine out of the eleven respondents who had no concern for the environment were upperclassmen. Therefore, we felt a further study should include greater amounts of upperclass students to determine if an increase in one’s knowledge can result in a disinterest toward the environment. Finally, to get a better profile of who the green consumer is, we would need to conduct a survey that is much more representative of the entire population.

In conclusion, we believe marketers are in a unique position, because the favorable attitudes consumers have about green products will only continue to grow. The opportunities marketers have to influence the future purchases of consumers are endless. However, in order to be successful, green marketers must act in a genuine and ethical manner.


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