Consumerology: It ain’t easy being green

The environment has become less important to Canadians, and Max Valiquette looks at what this means to shopper marketers.

By Max Valiquette

That title pretty much sums up our last Consumerology report, which was about the environment. You may have already heard of some of our findings but the big thing is simply this: the environment is of less importance to Canadian consumers than it has been in years. As the economy has worsened, some of this has simply been a trade-off (in that people feel they simply can’t afford to spend the same sort of money to be as environmentally conscientious as before) but some of this also has to do with green fatigue. Consumers have heard so much about being green – and seen it in so many marketing campaigns, on so many packages, and added to so many product names that they just don’t believe it as they used to. Overall, the number of Canadians who say they consider the environmental impact of a purchase has dropped by some 10% in only three years. A very significant number.

Green has been a sort of marketing shorthand – and a lazy one. As the environment became more and more important for Canadians, the industry tried to make it an easy purchase trigger, a way for one brand to distinguish itself from another. And as more and more brands started to do that, the exact opposite happened: green brands are in no way special now. There was a 9% jump in the number of Canadians who said that “green” has been used so much that it doesn’t mean anything to them anymore.

But! Dig a little deeper into the study and you’ll find that “strong environmental buyers” still account for some 40 percent of Canadians – those who are the most concerned, the most motivated, and engage in the most environmentally responsible shopping. That number has only declined by a scant 2% in the past three years, not 10. These folks are intractable, and shopper marketers shouldn’t ignore them in the face of an environmental shopping drop-off driven by moderates. Hold fast to these strategies, people, but concentrate on consolidating brand equity with the most environmental base you have. If this doesn’t have an impact in the short-term, it’s still going to help you build environmental equity. But this has to be about more than just claiming that you’re green. You have to actually do something. Strong environmental buyers do their research and they won’t let you get away with less.

And to do something, first you have to be about something. So pick a specific issue within that larger environmental palette – something directly relevant to your brand – and promote that, specifically – not just nebulous greenness. Pick water (of increasing importance) or waste reduction and build a real program helping Canadians contribute to that issue and then – and only then – leverage that in your communications. As environmental shoppers lose a sense of what makes green brands different, you’ve got to make your brand about something more specific. That’s not easy, either – but it’s even better than being green.

Max Valiquette is the managing director of Intellectual Property and Content Development at Bensimon Byrne. For more information on Consumerology, or to download a copy, go to