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Marketing and Comms
'Eco-Friendly,' 'Renewable,' 'Sustainable' - Are 'Green' Buzzwords Reaching, Influencing American Consumers?

While new surveys are emerging left and right attempting to find the pulse of the ever-elusive consumer when it comes to sustainability, that stubborn attitude/behavior gap still persists. So, let’s take a few steps back … Does the growing proliferation of “green” jargon really reach a mass audience? Do these buzzwords and terms carry political baggage? Do consumers understand their meaning? And more importantly, do they stir up positive or negative feelings? Do people associate them with increased expense or better health?

The Buzz on Buzzwords, the latest special research report from Shelton Group, tested perceptions of 11 “green” buzzterms commonly used to market products and services**.** The poll of 2,000 U.S. consumers hoped to determine:

As CEO Suzanne Shelton pointed out in a recent post, “When it comes to selling products with an environmental benefit — or telling your corporate sustainability story well — words really do matter."

The words tested:

  • Green
  • Eco-friendly
  • Sustainable
  • Recyclable
  • Recycled
  • Renewable
  • Compostable
  • Biodegradable
  • Low carbon footprint
  • Net zero
  • Low VOC

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The survey found some terms seemed to truly resonate with consumers, while others lose them completely. It’s not whether they get it — it’s whether they think they get it. If respondents thought they understood a term, they gave it a positive rating. This often had very little to do with whether they actually understood the concept. For example:

  • Consumers are all about recycling on principle, but don’t expect them to get the details right — for example, 61 percent of respondents assumed products made of recycled content would also be recyclable. They also had high expectations for recycled, recyclable and post-consumer products: A strong majority expected these products to be good for the environment in general, which isn’t necessarily true.
  • Most consumers are concerned about indoor air quality, but the term “low VOC” doesn’t translate for them at all — it was the worst-performing term in the study in terms of consumer understanding and desirability.
  • “Green” has made a full transition from fringe idea to mainstream value: 62 percent thought of the term as positive, which corresponded exactly to the number of people who thought climate change is real and caused by human activity.

The takeaway, as Shelton summed up: “Certain terms had mass appeal for a majority of consumers, but it’s important to take a closer look if you’re trying to persuade a particular target audience to take action. When we applied our proprietary consumer segmentation model to the results, it was easy to see that the terms meant different things to different groups.”


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