Glad to Be Green, as Long as It’s Convenient

Always eager to express fidelity to the environment in the abstract, consumers become less eco-loyal when pressed about trade-offs that might be entailed in helping Mother Earth. Polling data released recently by the Shelton Group provides an example of this phenomenon.

Six in 10 respondents to the survey (conducted in April and May) said they’re looking for greener products. However, when they were asked whether they’d give top priority to their comfort, their convenience or the environment, the environment ran third (picked by 26 percent), well behind convenience (38 percent) and comfort (35 percent).

One question in the poll presented a list of items and asked respondents whether they’d give them up “if you thought these things were harming the environment.” The responses are highly revealing, as fewer than half said they’d be willing to forgo their iPod (42 percent), dishwasher (38 percent), microwave (28 percent) or cellphone (23 percent). Fewer still would do without air conditioning (16 percent), TV (14 percent), computer (8 percent) or car (7 percent).

Still, while 13 percent of respondents said they’ve been buying fewer green goods amid the recession, 27 percent said they’ve been buying more. Asked to cite the categories in which they seek green products, respondents put home-cleaning items, foods/beverages and personal-care goods atop the list.

If consumers are often laggards in buying green wares, they’ll nonetheless be quick to punish companies guilty of greenwashing. When respondents were asked how they’d react if the maker of one of their favorite products were fined for failing an emissions test or polluting a stream-despite advertising itself as green-40 percent said they’d stop buying it. Moreover, 36 percent said they’d urge their friends to shun it as well.