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Consumers Still Not Buying Into Sustainability At Store Shelves

Hartman Group sustainability chart

Why aren’t consumers putting their money where their sustainable aspirations are? The answer, according to a report released this week by The Hartman Group, lies somewhere in the widening gap between familiarity with the term “sustainability” and consumers’ ability to identify sustainable products or companies. The report, “Sustainability 2013: When Personal Aspiration and Behavior Diverge,” provides new insights into the barriers to purchasing sustainable products (including differences across product categories).

“We’re seeing a broad gap in the way consumers and companies think about and approach sustainability,” said Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group. “That very few consumers today can name what they consider to be a sustainable company underscores the fact that so many corporate social responsibility and sustainability activities go relatively unnoticed by consumers.”

The question of why consumers aren’t buying more sustainable products has haunted companies in the consumer packaged goods industry for several years, according to The Hartman Group.

“In the World of Sustainability, there is a widening chasm between what consumers say they want and what they actually buy. On the one hand, consumers say they want to be sustainable and they want companies to behave sustainably,” said Demeritt. “On the other hand, when companies do take action, consumers don’t always give them the credit they might expect. There are mechanisms underlying why consumers don’t always prioritize sustainability in their purchase behavior.”

The report details how the consumer definition of sustainability has broadened, including:

• The number of consumers reporting they are familiar with the term sustainability has grown from 69 percent in 2010 to 74 percent today; and

• The number of consumers saying they can identify a sustainable product also has grown, from 21 percent to 23 percent, but at a smaller rate, meaning the gap has actually increased since 2010.

“The research uncovered the fact that how consumers think about product categories is more relevant to ‘the gap’ than how they think about companies,” added Demeritt.

“Sustainability 2013” provides a detailed analysis of several key product and channel categories and highlights key findings, including how many consumers participate in sustainable behaviors and consider environmental and social aspects at times in making purchase decisions, and those consumers willing to pay more for products with specific dimensions.


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