To attract people willing to spend a little more for a responsibly produced product, companies selling everything from cookies to cars are turning to marketing firms to help them at least appear like they’ve jumped onto the “big green” bandwagon, whether their products follow suit or not.
One of the many problems with companies washing in green and then calling themselves sustainable is that it not only dilutes the meaningfulness of the movement, but, according to our allies at Conscientious Innovation, it isn’t even an intelligent marketing technique.
Ci, a sustainability marketing group and think tank, defines this trend of “going green” to win the attention of conscious consumers as “knee-jerk” green. And they say it’s a bad move, both for the sustainability of the planet and for their business.
“What’s happening is simple,” states Jason McCormick of Ci, “brands that haven’t taken an in-depth look at what sustainability actually means think that “green” is the sustainability story they need to be talking about, and they are rushing into something that isn’t right for them. Often, they are totally missing their own, brand-specific sustainability story, one that can powerfully express real actions and real values around other facets of sustainability.”
To prove their point, Ci asked more than 5,000 people to rank the importance of sustainability related issues, such as pollution and climate change, community connections and employee treatment. Their recently released results takes an in depth look at the relationship between consumers and sustainability.
They found that most people fall into five distinct categories along their Sustainability Passion Index, which separates consumers into segments depending on a their passion for sustainability issues. Let's take a look at the groups they found:
The Vocal Globalist They are passionate about social and environmental issues. They are more concerned about Global Warming than any other group. They are very much connected with their community, talking amongst friends and writing blogs. They take the time to be aware of the issues, and are simultaneously anxious and confident about the future. They make up 41 percent of the general population.
The Casual Spectator They are not particularly passionate about any issues. Connecting with family, friends and community is important, but they don’t think it’s important to make a contribution. They read blogs regularly, but they do not write them. Leading a balanced life, being paid a living wage and treating others with respect is important to them – but no more than any other group believed. They make up 24 percent of the general population.
The Hyper Local They are passionate about local. Supporting local businesses is important to them. Buying local is important to them. They are active in their neighbourhoods and engaged with what is going on. Family, friends and community is central to their lives, but they are also very realistic about the choices they make. They shop at mega-brand stores like Wal-Mart, and are generous in giving credit to brands that are trying to make a difference. They make up 19 percent of the general population.
The Pragmatic Believer They are distinctly passionate about spiritual issues. Having a higher purpose is important to them, yet at the same time they are grounded and focused on what they can achieve. They rate family, friends and community highly, support locally based businesses and volunteer frequently. Price is a major barrier to making better decisions. Buying organic is not important to them. Climate change is not important to them. They make up 8 percent of the general population.
The Self-serving Non-believer They are distinctly dispassionate about issues that do not affect them directly. Issues such as pollution, global warming and buying environmentally conscious products rank very low in terms of importance. Buying fair trade and local products and services are not important. Instead they rate issues such as connecting with friends and family, leading a balanced life and nurturing personal relationships. As well as broader issues that could affect them including employee treatment and being paid a living wage. They make up 8 percent of the general population.
What I found more interesting than the subdivision of conscious consumers was Ci’s findings on their motivation for making these purchasing choices in the first place:
The Vocal Globalist
- General concern and wanting to be a better part of society (87%)
The Casual Specator
- What goes around comes around, call it karma if you like (47%)
The Hyper Local
- General concern and wanting to be a better part of society (76%)
The Pragmatic Believer (8%)
- General concern and wanting to be a better part of society (67%)
The Self-Serving Non Believer (8%)
- Being personally impacted or feeling personally connected to the issues (37%)
The fear based motivation "feeling a sense of fear and personal responsibility if I don't act" is highest with the Vocal Globalist (55%)
From looking at these results, it’s interesting to see that of the largest percentage of respondents, the Global Vocalists (who said that they are passionate about social and environmental issues, concerned about Global Warming and take the time to be aware of the issues) said they are acting both out of responsibility and concern.
Companies who can truly respond to these concerns, says Ci, will have a better chance of connecting with these consumers.
Although it's never fun to think of myself as merely a consumer, or as someone whose concern could be taken advantage of by marketing gurus, I think the Sustainability Passion Index offers some interesting insight into the world of supply and demand.
Ci's research shows that when producers and consumers can be in a more honest relationship with each other, everybody wins. If you fit into the Global Voices category, for example, proper marketing (think fair trade or sweat-shop free labeling) could make finding products and services you deem worthy enough to buy less time consuming and less confusing. In return the people producing can respond by making their company and their goods something that people can feel comfortable investing in.
Never before has so much wealth been concentrated in the hands of so few people. A small minority of people in the human family have accumulated a large portion of the world's wealth. What is wrong with this picture?
At least to me, a pyramid scheme is not a satisfactory system for organizing the human family's world economy or distributing the world's wealth because such a "trickle down economy" is unfair, grossly inequitable and soon to become patently unsustainable. The limited resources and frangible ecosystem services of Earth cannot sustain much longer the way the global political economy is currently grown without regard to limits to its growth.
Afterall, the air, land and seas are being relentlessly polluted with human waste products; fresh water, fish stocks, food reserves, fossil fuels, and wetlands are being depleted at an alarming rate; the catastrophic effects of massive over-consumption and unrestrained hoarding of resources cannot be sustained much longer by our small, finite, fragile planetary home.
If the environment is being irreversibly degraded and natural resources are being dissipated recklessly, how can human civilization, life as we know it and the integrity of Earth as a fit for human habitation be maintained much longer?
Something new and different needs to be done. The wealthy and powerful leaders among us have responsibilities to assume and duties to perform. If these leaders continue to adamantly insist that we keep producing endlessly as we are doing now and if we keep getting what we are likely to keep getting by overproducing as we are now, then the unbridled growth of the global economy in all likelihood will soon precipitate a colossal ecological wreckage worldwide unless, of course, the ever expanding global economy proceeds like a runaway train headlong into the monolithic 'wall' called "unsustainability" where the manmade economy crashes and destructs before rampant economic globalization destroys God's Creation.