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Still Willing To Buy Green, Or So They Say

Consumers may be reeling from one economic sucker punch after another but they still seem prepared to dig deep into wallets and purses in support of 'green' products.

That's according to the 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey where 34 percent of consumers indicate they are more likely to buy environmentally responsible goods today despite the economy.

The survey, carried out by Opinion Research Corporation on behalf of Cone, a marketing company based in Boston, Mass., also found the environmental shopping habits of another 44 percent have not been changed by the recession and only 8 percent are now less likely to buy green.

Results showed that even at a time when consumer confidence is near rock bottom and much of corporate America is held in contempt, people remain stubbornly supportive of environmentally sound products and the companies producing them.

This survey's positive feedback contrasts with results from a long-term study of environmental attitudes among high school students, recently reported here by Tom Jacobs.

That study found levels of indifference and a lack of concern about environmental issues over the last three decades from high school seniors who were also less willing to take eco-actions, such as energy conservation.

The difference may be partly explained by demographics — Cone surveyed more than 1,000 adults over the age of 18 — but Michael Solomon, professor of marketing at Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, senses other factors at play in the consumer survey.

"There's no question that consumer awareness of eco-friendly brands and behaviors was on a steep upward trajectory until the recession hit," said Solomon, director of the Center for Consumer Research at Saint Joseph's Haub School of Business .

"However, when it comes to predicting consumer behavior, often the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In short, there is a big difference between what people say they will do and what happens in the final three feet in a supermarket aisle."

Solomon, considered an authority on consumer behavior and author of the textbook Consumer Behavior: Buying, Having and Being, also wonders about the way the survey question was posed.

"Note that they don't necessarily stipulate that consumers will pay a premium for eco-friendly products, only that they prefer to buy them. These are two very different scenarios," he said.

"However, the good news I see is that people are paying attention — their attitudes tomorrow may be shaped by what companies do today.

"Marketers should not interpret short-term declines in sales of green products — as consumers vote with their wallets rather than their conscience — as license to abandon the movement toward sustainable manufacturing and retailing."

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