Surveys and statements by industry leaders show that sustainability is continuing to pick up momentum with consumers and retailers.
  • According to Andrew Salzman, chief marketing officer at Information Resources Inc., sustainability has “evolved from a niche segment concern to a major factor influencing purchasing and shopping behavior across a sizable consumer base.” A recent IRI report shows that about 30% of respondents look for environmentally friendly products and packaging in their brand selection.
  • According to Nielsen Consumer Panel Services, the number of sustainability-conscious consumers has risen to 35 million people, or 16% of the adult American population. And this number is expected to grow substantially in the next five years. But the real news, according to the annual Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS) Consumer Trends Database from the National Marketing Institute, is that shoppers say they’re willing to spend up to 20% more for cleaner, greener products.
  • According to Lee Scott, chief executive officer and president of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the mega-retailer is going to financially reward suppliers that are in tune to sustainability. In a speech given in January to more than 7,000 managers at the annual kick-off meeting for its U.S. stores, Scott said, “We will favor-and in some cases even pay more-for suppliers that meet our standards and share our commitment to quality and sustainability.”
Despite all this good news, I remain skeptical. There has been a lot of talk, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of action yet. And, by action, I mean dollars changing hands. Do mainstream consumers truly shop for sustainability first these days? Over convenience? Over price? Over taste?

I think not. I think not in our lifetime, or at least not for long.

I think they shouldn’t have to. A more sustainable product and/or package should be like, say, a hologram on a label-attractive, but not something you should expect consumers to pay a lot extra for. If you can make a few bucks with a sustainable strategy, great. But beware of gouging and the subsequent backlash from consumers, who hold the ultimate power of the pocketbook.