To understand the power of green in the home consumer marketplace, lets suppose the following:
Let’s suppose that company “A” spends considerable time and money to develop a flat-screen television that uses half the energy of comparable flat-screen TVs. On top of that, engineers go out of their way to find innovative ways to use recycled components, making the set more sustainable to boot. The set goes on sale, and the company decides to market it by extoling its Green, environmental, and sustainable benefits.
Now suppose that company “B” also develops a flat-screen television that uses about half the energy of comparable flat-screen televisions and also uses recycled components. However, instead of marketing its set as Greener and more environmentally responsible than traditional flat-screen TVs, the company barely even mentions this in its marketing materials. Instead, company B focuses on things like the higher-resolution picture and longer warranty, which are comparable to those of the flat-screen television
Which company do you think would be most successful with its marketing program and sell the most televisions? If you answered company B, you are correct. It’s not necessarily that home consumers do not want to select a television that is Greener and more sustainable; it’s just that, according to recent studies, the consumer is less likely to purchase the set just because it was developed and intended to be Greener. “When a company manufactures a product that is better for the environment, consumers are less likely to purchase it if the Green benefit is perceived as [the main goal],” according to the authors of the study.1 However, they are more likely to purchase the product “if the [green] benefits are perceived as an unintended side effect.”
The researchers were a bit surprised by the findings. They even noted in their report that “all else being equal, it would seem that intending to make a product better [for the environment] would be preferred to unintentionally doing so.”
Explaining this finding, the reporters concluded that the “intention” of the company developing the product is key to marketing the product and to its success in the marketplace. Specifically, when a company spends time, energy, and resources with the intent of making a more environmentally responsible product, home consumers believe they likely took time, energy, and resources away from making a better, higher-quality product.
Do these findings apply to professional products developed for commercial use? As an example, are facility managers and contract cleaners going to be less interested in Green cleaning products developed specifically to reduce cleaning’s impact on the environment? If viewed with a historical perspective, the answer would likely be yes. Most cleaning products developed 15 or more years ago simply did not perform as well as traditional “non-Green” cleaning products. Because of this, labeling a new cleaning product as Green or introducing a new product to the marketplace that was specifically intended to be Greener or more sustainable was met with little fanfare in the professional cleaning industry.
However, today that would not be the case. One key reason for this is that managers and contract cleaners now recognize that the performance and costs of most Green cleaning products manufactured today are comparable to those of traditional cleaning products. These products are now well accepted, and end customers recognize that just as with traditional cleaning products, not all Green cleaning products perform the same. Some may work better in certain situations than others.
In addition, more and more commercial facilities are now built and operated with the environment in mind. In many cases, a Green product is preferred, with a traditional product selected only if the Green product does not perform well or if the traditional product is significantly more cost effective, both of which are becoming less and less common. Further, many facilities are now operated based on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) guidelines, are LEED certified, or are seeking LEED certification. In such cases, the use of certain Green products, such as Green cleaning products, is a requirement.
What manufacturers of Green and more sustainable products can learn from this study is that consumers, including commercial consumers, insist that the environmentally preferable products they select be comparable to traditional products in quality and performance. Fortunately, with many Green cleaning products, consumers already assume the products are environmentally preferable, so the manufacturer is free to allocate resources and market the products emphasizing performance benefits over environmental attributes.
Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, a consulting firm specializing in Greening the cleaning industry. He is also coauthor of both The Business of Green Cleaning and Green Cleaning for Dummies.
Ashkin has worked in the cleaning industry since 1981 and has held senior management positions in leading consumer and commercial product companies. He began his work on Green Cleaning in 1990 and today is thought of as the “father of Green cleaning”. For more information, visit www.AshkinGroup.com.
1 When Going Green Backfires: How Firm Intentions Shape the Evaluation of Socially Beneficial Products, by George E. Newman, Margarita Gorlin, and Ravi Dhar, all with the Yale School of Management.