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RT seminar puts ‘green’ up for debate


CHICAGO Retailing Today and served as a forum for thought leaders in the retail industry to exchange ideas and strategies around the topic of what matters most to today’s shoppers. —Consumers’ self-professed concern for the environment has yet to translate into meaningful behavior changes, according to leading researchers, advertising executives and business consultants who participated in a recent conference called “The New Consumer Consciousness.” The half-day event was sponsored by

At the core of the event was the issue of sustainability and the environment. The read on the situation today reveals a significant disconnect between the concern consumers profess to have for the environment and how that translates into actions that affect the retailers with whom they do business, as well as the products they buy.

The research firm Leo J. Shapiro & Associates provided insight on that topic as it conducted a survey of 800 consumers during August and also assembled a focus group to explore the topic. The key finding was that for most consumers, being “green” is more of an aspiration than a reality at this point. “For most consumers, green behavior is currently limited to modest recycling and buying energy efficient light bulbs,” said Art Angel, research director with Leo J. Shapiro.

Involvement is limited to those things that are easy, and that leaves consumers with a sense of guilt because they could be doing more. Those feelings are also projected onto retailers and suppliers—81% of those surveyed said product manufactures are not doing enough to conserve energy and protect the environment, while 73% said retailers are not doing enough.

As far as consumer behavior is concerned, they are conflicted due to simple economics. “The fundamental issue is consumers don’t want to pay more,” said Zain Raj, head of the adverting agency Euro RSCG’s Retail Center of Excellence. “There also is no definitive clarity around what [green] means.”

As it stands now, companies have determined that green is an issue of growing importance to consumers, in addition to an issue where it is advantageous to be viewed as proactive. That has led to a marketplace awash in corporate proclamations about concern for the environment, as well as actions that are being taking to save the planet.

The onset of interest in protecting the environment is relatively sudden and therefore, has spawned understandable cynicism from long-time environmentalists and charges that companies are simply branding existing activities as green initiatives in what has become known as “greenwashing.”

“I am skeptical about their motivations because they are only doing it to make a profit,” said a focus group participant named Mike who was part of a panel discussion.

Putting aside the impending destruction of the planet, what’s changed is the fact that consumers are wired differently today than, say, in the 1950s, and thanks to the instantaneous exchange of information, there is a greater awareness of corporate responsibility. Simply put, it has never been more important for companies to stand for something besides generating profits for shareholders.

“There is a fundamental shift happening around the world in the consumer base. Consumers are saying, ‘We value brands that have values,’” Zain said.

Affirming that view was Julia Kivistik, evp of cause branding with Cone Inc. According to findings from an attitudinal study conducted annually by Cone, people are making choices about where they are going to shop and what they are going to do based on the values of companies. Unfortunately for most corporations, they don’t do a good job of letting people know about their good works.

“This is no time to be modest. You have to tell the world what you are doing because people want to know, but you have to do it in the right way,” Kivistik said.

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