Almost everyone these days is concerned about the environmental preservation, but it feels like we, as consumers, are not always willing to sacrifice convenience and change our habits or consumption to make a serious commitment to the environmental agenda. There are many fair reasons why we can't commit, the strongest being the lack of financial resources to purchase environmentally friendly products. There is also a lot of concern about "greenwashing," which drives people away from so-called green products because of potential unsubstantiated claims about their ecological benefits.
It is easy to see that we have found ourselves in a situation in which there is a strong social need for environmental protection, but an inability to match that attitude with action. As documented in the Roper Organization research (as cited in the Reference for Business Encyclopedia article on Green Marketing), between 1990 and 1996 the number of people who were committed to environmental products declined, as measured by what premium they were willing to pay for green products, from 6.6% to 4.5%, and the number of consumers who rated themselves with the highest commitment to green products also declined.
To encourage this social need to evolve beyond an attitude to a behavioral switch, we need a combination of legislation and business initiative to make products and behaviors that are environmentally friendly more convenient for consumers. The main barrier to behavior is the pricing of green products, but businesses must also look to potential health benefits and the ease of use and disposability (which is key in the fight against landfills) that might encourage consumers to look beyond the price difference. If the study from 1996 can be taken as a measure, then consumers (even those less interested in environmental conservation) are willing to pay up to 4.5% more for environmental products, might have some leeway in that arena.
Hotels have found many green cleaning options actually save them money, or are at least are price neutral, compared to traditional cleaning products. In addition to saving money by preventing chemical related accidents, hotels are saving money in the reduction of water used, and in the amount of cleaning products they need to purchase. The Green Hotels Association, the group responsible for cards in hotel rooms asking visitors to reuse towels claimed that the initiative saves hotels $.50 per day per occupied room (as cited in Ecofriendly Cleaning gets the Green Light by Kristine Hansen). Government agencies are also finding cost savings through using green products; Seattle estimates that its recent switch to green cleaning products costs the city 60% less per usable gallon (Hansen).
What is important to consider is how these savings can be communicated and hopefully transferred to the consumer. If a company brags that their green products are saving money, consumers will expect to see some of the price savings, either in terms of a discount or some other tangible benefit. One obvious benefit from the reduction of chemicals and the use of non-toxic cleaners is the reduction in chemical allergy and irritation complaints. If reliable statistics could be found about the amount of these types of situations that occur in hotels, it might push consumers to use the more environmentally friendly hotels, and could encourage the trend throughout the industry. There really is a circular effect that could happen here, if a few companies can teach consumers the benefits of green products, through their own usage, then those consumers will in turn drive market demand that will encourage other companies to follow suit. This is different from the boom of 'green washing' because it is the companies themselves that will have to use the products to get consumers interested. This could be especially effective in the service industries, like hotels, restaurants, and public transit.
A second important element that businesses must consider is the ease of use in encouraging consumers. Cobalt Park, an office complex outside of Newcastle, UK, is working with local public transit and ridesharing programs to lower the carbon emissions created by workers going back and forth between the complex. As the largest business park in the UK, Cobalt Park wanted to provide convenient and effective transportation options to cut down on the pollution created by all the workers. To do this, they engaged in massive research to find out what consumer perceptions of public transit were and how they could be countered to encourage usage. Cobalt worked with the buses to change routes and used a variety of media to educate the workers in how the bus system worked and how it would benefit them and the environment. Their press release states that the number of people using the buses increased substantially through their efforts, with more than 650 people riding in late 2007, compared to less than 400 in mid 2006. Associate director Peter Whitehead, says "These figures illustrate the success and effectiveness of Cobalt's sustainable transport strategy. More and more people working in the area are realising they now have the realistic option of leaving the car at home. This reduces CO2 emissions and Cobalt is an excellent example of how, simply by working together in partnership, a sustainable transport scheme, on a large scale, can work."
This example demonstrates an opportunity for businesses through the world to consider how they can make transportation more convenient for their employees, while also reducing their environmental impact. It might not work in the US now, as we are all addicted to our driving independence, but as roads become more crowded and parking rates increase, this is an area that companies should consider investing in.
The last area of environmentally friendly actions that companies can consider to increase convenience for consumers is disposability. Many consumers want to do the right thing and recycle their products properly, however, a lack of knowledge or resources to do so can prevent these well-intentioned consumers from following through on their desires. One big example of this is in the electronics industry. Everyone knows that you can't just throw a computer in the garbage, but what do you do with it? You could make a time-consuming trip to the local recycling facility (where you may have to pay to drop off your items) or conduct research to see if any appliance stores will take your old equipment. These options require time, effort, and thought on the part of the consumer and reduce the likelihood that they will follow through and do the correct thing. Many communities offer electronic recycling days throughout the year, but to participate in these consumers have to know when and where, and be free to go during those hours. They also have to hold on to the item until they can dispose of it. Another problem area is packaging materials that consumers get products in, but often through in the garbage because of inefficient recycling programs or a lack of knowledge about recycling these products.
Germany, who is already leading in eco-labeling and environmental regulation compliance, has passed many ordinances concerning this problem of "reverse logistics," which involves manufacturers taking back the products at the end of their useful lives, specifically targeting the electronics, car, and packaging industries. A group of manufacturers in Germany have banded together to create the "Dual System" which is a country wide waste management system that guarantees the collection and recycling of various packaging materials (as discussed in the Reference for Business Encyclopedia article on Green Marketing).
All of these areas are opportunities for business to be a driving force in the social shift towards environmental protection and conservation. Legislation and regulations need to be crafted to encourage business to promote and use green products and to restrict their messages to prevent lies and exaggerations of green-based claims. Consumers are already willing to change, but corporations and the government will need to provide them with a convenient way to reduce and properly manage their consumption and waste.
Glanville Consultants. "Changing Perceptions and Travel Choices at Cobalt Park." Glanville Group, May 2008. Web. 23 Nov. 2010. .
Hansen, Kristine. "Eco-Friendly Cleaning Gets the Green Light." CleanLink | The Information Resource for the Cleaning Industry. Housekeeping Solutions, Apr. 2002. Web. 23 Nov. 2010. .
White, Mark A. "Green Marketing." Green Marketing. Reference For Business - Encyclopedia of Small Business, Business Biographies, Business Plans, and Encyclopedia of American Industries. Web. 23 Nov. 2010. .