Green issues making a mark with mainstream consumers

Consumers remain as willing to make an effort to buy environmentally friendly products and services as they were in 1990 - and more are prepared to pay higher prices, according to a major survey.1 Interest in environmental issues no longer appears to be confined to the professional classes, but has become a more mainstream concern.

The survey was carried out by the leading market research organisation Mintel as a follow-up to a similar study four years ago. A total of 981 adults were questioned.

In both surveys, Mintel found that 60% of those interviewed said they were prepared to adapt their purchasing habits according to their environmental principles. Around 40% of the total - the "dark greens" - make a positive effort to buy environmentally friendly products and services, while another 20% - the "pale greens" - will do so if they see them.

The findings support the trend identified by market research firm Nielsen two years ago in the depths of the recession - that since 1990 most shoppers had increased purchases of products marketed on a green image (ENDS Report 217, p 24 ).

Mintel found that fewer people now admit to having no concern for about the environment - the proportion is down from 18% in 1990 to 10% in 1994. At the same time, the proportion of "armchair greens" - those who say they are concerned about the environment but also say it does not affect their spending habits - rose from 23% to 28%.

The socio-economic profile of environmentally conscious shoppers has changed in the past four years. In 1990, it was the professional/managerial classes (ABs) who were more influenced by environmental considerations when shopping. The latest survey shows a slackening of the interest shown by this group - but this has been balanced by new interest from people in the lowest income groupings (Ds and Es).

Mintel concludes that the shift in economic profile of the dark greens may not be very heartening for retailers but that there is obviously scope for marketers to home in on armchair and pale greens.

The waning of interest amongst the higher income groups is linked to reduced concern about the "big green issues of the 1980s" such as the greenhouse effect, ozone depletion, forest destruction and acid rain. Mintel suggests that people may feel less need to take action in these areas because the Government and companies are felt to be doing more. Alternatively, "people may simply be suffering from 'information overload' and have lost interest."

Nevertheless, depletion of the ozone layer remains the top concern for green shoppers - even though products containing CFCs should no longer be on the shelves. The residual concern may, however, boost Greenpeace's efforts to alert shoppers to the continuing use of ozone depleting chemicals in supermarkets' refrigerators.

The survey holds good news for organic producers and fair trade retailers. The proportion of people who said they would be willing to pay a premium for environmentally friendly and ethical food increased from 53% in 1990 to 60% in 1994. On average, people were prepared to pay 13p in the pound more for such goods - with high income earners and people aged 35-44 willing to pay as much as 16p in the pound more.

More people are willing to pay in support of their principles despite widespread scepticism about the prices charged for environmentally friendly goods - with 70% saying the manufacturers are "jumping on the green bandwagon", the same proportion as in 1990. More than half of the respondents also found green claims confusing.

Attitudes towards recycling were more mixed. Support for recycling schemes was strong - 85% said they would use returnable bottles if collection points were provided at supermarkets, and 70% said they preferred to buy refill packs of detergents and cleaners.

But less than half of those questioned said they would pay a supplement on goods specifically to support recycling schemes, and only 40% would pay for collection of recyclable materials from their homes. The finding may have important implications as the Government prepares legislation on recovery of packaging waste (ENDS Report 238, p 11 ).

Mintel also analysed the influence of ethical and environmental considerations in the purchase of financial services. Nearly half (47%) of respondents said they would not use a company's financial service if they did not agree with its ethical stance, while 43% would actively select companies to invest in on the basis of their ethical/environmental record.

Of those prepared to invest £3,000 and who had a definite view on the subject, just over half were willing to accept a lower return on their investment - on average by 3.4% - in support of their ethical/environmental principles.

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