Especially when it comes to being “green,” not all consumers are the same. Some believe very seriously in sustainability and will act on their beliefs by buying green products packaged in recycled or bio-based packaging. At the opposite extreme are those who think not at all about renewable materials, energy, or recycling. For their long-term planning purposes, even packaging producers should be aware of these distinctions, even though they may be two or three (or more) links in the supply chain away from direct interaction with consumers.
Interviews with consumers show that they each fall into one of five “shades” of green, as explained by Jacquelyn Ottman in her book The New Rules of Green Marketing. Ottman references a study by the National Marketing Institute (NMI); the study showed that adults in the USA split roughly evenly into five groups of attitudes and behaviors, with each group containing from 15 to 25% of the population:
- “LOHAS” (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability): These people are the most environmentally conscious of consumers, basing almost every decision on the green characteristics of products.
- “Naturalites”: These consumers focus on making healthy choices, avoiding any product that could be seen as toxic or non-beneficial to human health.
- “Drifters”: These people will make green-based decisions, but mainly when doing so is the stylish or trendy thing to do, or when the environmental benefits are easy to understand or heavily reported in the media.
- “Conventionals”: People who focus on the practical benefits of green technologies, such as products that help them save money on utility bills.
- “Unconcerneds”: People who display little or no basic green behaviors, such as recycling.
One issue that might be restricting the growth of the pro-green groups is the confusion of consumers about sustainability messages that are used on packaging – messages which may use terms like “green,” “recyclable,” and “biodegradable” in an unclear or illegitimate way.
Fortunately, at least one study indicates that consumers have become more confident and savvy about environmental issues. Thus more people may be more likely to respond to clear, credible messages about sustainable packaging. There’s much more to say about why this is a critical issue – given that green attributes of packaging are rarely obvious to consumers, and so must be communicated.
Mike Tolinski is the author of Plastics and Sustainability, published in Oct. 2011 by Wiley-Scrivener, and he is Contributing Editor for Plastics Engineering magazine of the Society of Plastics Engineers in the USA. His views have been shaped by his engineering, university, and journalism experience in the plastics and manufacturing industries over the past 21 years.