Green attitudes down, but green behaviour levels hold steady

5 April, 2011

New consumer survey shows that environmentalist passion has declined but green activity levels have remained stable and are still generally high

— A new report from The Futures Company finds that while the consumer attitudes that incubate and support green lifestyles have waned over the past few years, green behaviors have significantly decreased among a small consumer segment only — those who have been the least interested in gree living all along. In contrast, the top 57% of green consumers did not significantly reduce their participation in green activities overall. Thus, there is still a critical mass of sustainability-oriented caring, concern and activity in the marketplace to tap into.

The key factor to keep in mind is that the flow of dynamic energy and excitement around green issues, at least for the time being, must be from companies and other organizations to consumers. Rather than merely being able to ride a wave of consumer demand and excitement, marketers themselves are going to have to generate demand and energy around their sustainability initiatives. Basically, these days, if you build it, most consumers will not come unless you are also willing to drive them there (preferably in an electric car).

Based on a nationally representative sample of 2,500 US adults ages 16+, the US MONITOR Sustainability Lens shows that, after peaking in 2008, green-lifestyle behaviors have generally been on the decline. The psychological prerequisites for living greener have also decreased, including general knowledge about green concerns, feelings of personal responsibility towards protecting the environment and the perceived personal relevance of sustainability issues. But while environmental ardor has lessened, green behaviors that were once habitual have certainly not disappeared. When consumers are placed along a hierarchy of green activity based on the number and frequency of green behaviors in which they engage, four levels of
green living were identified:

  • Very Little / No Green (17% of consumers)
  • Low Green (26% of consumers)
  • Moderate Green (30% of consumers)
  • High Green (27% of consumers)
Looking across all 15 trackable sustainability behaviors in the survey, the proportion of people in the Very Little/No Green segment who engaged in a given green behavior at least occasionally decreased by an average 25 percentage points. In the Low Green segment the decrease was by an average of eight percentage points. In contrast, the Moderate Green segment’s average participation in green activities increased two percentage points and the High Green segment average went up four points.

"Our survey results clearly show that decreases in green activity are not evenly distributed across the consumer population,” said David Bersoff, Chief Insights Officer at The Futures Company. "Fortunately, there still seems to be a core of green attitudes and behaviors for marketers to tap into and build on. Consumers can still be moved to live more sustainable lives, but the effort required to move them is much greater now than it was before the worst of the recession."

Ultimately, to help consumers lead greener lifestyles, organizations need to develop long-term strategies that can be effective even in the face of consumer passivity and lack of interest. Going forward, to the extent possible, green needs to be baked into marketplace offerings and no longer offered as an option that consumers can take or leave.

This report is part of the Future Perspectives series of white papers on the changing global marketplace.

For further information, please contact:
(UK) Jennifer Childs at +44 (0)20 7955 1824 or email
(US) Emily Parenti at +1 919 932 8626 or email  

About The Futures Company
The Futures Company is the leading global foresight and futures consultancy, formed in 2008 from the coming together of The Henley Centre, HeadlightVision and Yankelovich. Through a combination of syndicated insight services and custom research and consultancy, we create commercial advantage for our clients by helping them to take control of their futures. By exploring the future needs, motivations and behaviors of consumers, and the broader dynamics shaping the marketplace, we unlock the future of consumers, brands, categories and companies.

The Futures Company is a Kantar company within WPP with teams in the UK, US, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and India.

Follow The Futures Company on Twitter @FuturesCo.

The Future Perspectives series
Our Future Perspectives series takes a critical look at the local and global currents shaping the consumer markets of the future. Each Future Perspective tackles a single issue, dissecting key data, correcting prevailing wisdom where necessary and providing strategic guidance for the full range of business practices and processes.

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