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Americans weary of ‘green' products

Posted at 4:02 PM, Aug 28, 2014

Research published this week says Americans think they’re “more than just friends” with green products, but they don’t think so highly of them.

Customers were shown two identical cleaning products -- one was said to be designed as environmentally friendly; the other was said to be a new design that just-so-happened to also be green.

The products were otherwise identical.

Results show customers said the unintentionally green product was superior, and they were more likely to buy it.

“People tend to assume if it’s good for the environment then it doesn’t perform as well,” said George E. Newman, a Yale University professor who led the study.

Customers are trying to wrap their heads around a complex, secretive design and manufacturing process, he said. With little information to go on, they assume resources put into making a product green must have been diverted from its quality.

But this “zero sum” view is incorrect.

“In the actual marketplace you have products that are the result of innovation that are both better for environment but also better performing,” Newman said.

For example, Apple famously replaced the plastic in its products with aluminum and glass beginning in 2008. The new design was marketed as stronger and more recyclable.

Another green sales hack is to tout benefits that are not inherent to the product. For instance, coffee labelled as “fair trade” or giving profits to a social cause would not fall into the green quality trap. It might, however, improve the customer’s view of the company.

Newman said it benefits manufacturers to be transparent about how their products are made.

They’ll need to be – Americans are becoming more skeptical of green products. One-quarter were willing to pay more for green last year, down from one-third in 2007, according to a Green Gauge study from GfK Roper. Most green consumers are millennials or younger.

There’s also a lot of money wrapped up in understanding how Americans respond to green marketing. Americans spent $120 billion on green “responsible consumption” grocery products in 2013, according to a Boston Consulting Group survey.

That’s a 16 percent chunk of the country’s $738 billion grocery market.

Gavin Stern is a national content producer for the Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @GavinStern.