Study: Green awareness is now ‘mainstream,’ but consumers less willing to pay the premium

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Call it the effect of a slow economic recovery or the results of excessive hype, but consumers have become less willing to pay for environmentally friendly products.

According to new research from GfK‘s Green Gauge, while aspects of the “green” movement have gone “mainstream,” those willing to purchase the more expensive green alternative products has decreased over the last several years.

The GfK study found that in the last 12 months, 73 percent of American consumers purchased an organic product, 93 percent had done something to conserve energy, and 77 percent had done something to conserve water. Respondents added that social media and other technologies such as home energy monitors have raised awareness about being environmentally friendly.

The research revealed, however, that while people are more aware, they are less likely to spend additional money to go green, with the percentages of Americans willing to spend on environmentally friendly alternatives noticeably dropping since 2008.

“Green awareness is indeed pervasive — but consumers can perceive ‘green’ claims as a negative in some contexts,” Timothy Kenyon, the Green Gauge survey director, said in a statement. “For example, while terms like organic and recyclable have strong positive resonance, they are often associated with higher prices. Understanding consumers’ triggers and the limits of their commitment to green action is essential for marketers and researchers alike.”

According to GfK, the proportion of Americans willing to spend extra for cleaner cars has dropped from 62 percent in 2008 to 49 percent; and for energy efficient light bulbs, the number has decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent.

An infographic created based on the GfK survey of 2,000 Americans over the summer, published by Advertising Age, delved into the green-purchase declines.

From 2008 to 2012, not only did the proportion of Americans willing to go green on cars and light bulbs decline, but the infographic shows that consumers who said they would pay more for organic apparel went down 45 percent to 40 percent.

The downward trend continued across the board: Those who would pay a premium for recycled paper produces went down 53 percent to 47 percent; Americans who would pay more for packaging with less plastic declined 52 percent to 47 percent; people who would pay more for electricity from renewables declined 56 percent to 48 percent; those who would pay extra for biodegradable plastic packaging went down 58 percent to 49 percent; and Americans who would purchase food without hormones at a higher price went down 57 percent to 51 percent.

While consumers are shying away from higher prices in a down economy, the over-hyping of green consumerism could also be to blame, according to GfK Consulting Director Diane Crispell, who told Advertising Age that while there is awareness people are becoming more discerning about their products.

“You have this kind of heightened distrust,” Crispell said. “Consumers have become hypercritical. You see it with green and health claims.”

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Caroline May