Consumer Understanding of Corporate Sustainability
By Laurie Demeritt
In today’s marketplace, “green” is in vogue
more than ever. With all of the attention
given to companies and consumers going
green, one would think that by now the term
would have diffused into commonplace language, however, the concept of saving the
environment is much too large for most consumers to get their arms around. Although
sustainability has become a household word
for the industry and media, findings show
that while consumers are actively engaged
accommodating sustainability in their day-to-day lives, the average consumer does not use
the term “sustainability.”
When it comes to corporate sustainability,
consumer understanding is not grounded in
carbon footprints, climate change or specific
product attributes. It’s not about “saving the
earth.” It hits much closer to home. Preserving a way of life and having control of their
surroundings is top of mind.
According to the “Hartman Report on
Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer
Perspective,” many consumers believe their
purchase decisions are at least as important
as their votes in affecting social change, and
in many instances, they feel purchasing has a
greater impact on society than their voting.
Consumers no longer want to shoulder
the burden of environmental quality alone.
Many feel that since the first Earth Day in
1970, government legislation and regulation
has done little in the way of innovation and
much in the way of creating bureaucratic
organizations. Now consumers are looking to
corporations to take a leadership role when it
comes to sustainable issues. The rationale:
the power of the dollar is mightier than the
vote. In hopes of shifting this burden to companies, consumers are expressing their values
through their purchases.
Although the “Hartman Report on
Sustainability” found that just over half of
consumers claim any familiarity at all with the
term “sustainability,” 93 percent have been
found to have some degree of “sustainability
consciousness.” This refers to the way people
link everyday life to “big” problems (e.g.,
food, water and air quality). When consumers
talk about sustainability, they are communicating six key values: health, local, social
responsibility, environmental responsibility,
simple living and control.
Consumers within the World of
Sustainability have different behavioral and
emotional mindsets when it comes to how
intensely they are involved with sustainable
beliefs and activities, including orientations
toward organics and eco- friendly products,
with those at the core being most involved.
Regarding customers in the World of
Sustainability, the study found:
• They are over twice as likely to think it’s
important to buy environmentally friendly
products (77 percent agree).
• They are nearly four times as likely to pay
10 percent more for sustainability products (75 percent at least somewhat likely).
• They are seven times as likely to think it’s
important to buy organically grown food
whenever possible ( 24 percent agree).
• They are over twice as likely to think science and rational intelligence can overcome major problems ( 27 percent agree).
• They are almost twice as likely to think
purchases have an impact on society (75
Sustainability consciousness is not just
about “eco-conscious consumers” and the