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U.K. Consumers Place a Premium on Sustainability

May 10, 2007

U.K. Consumers Place a Premium on Sustainability

Concern for the environment has prompted one of the most complete and speedy revolutions in consumer attitudes ever seen, according to new research, although most people surveyed had an incomplete grasp of what exactly makes a company green.

A survey of more than 1,500 British adults by the branding consultancy Landor Associates, the research agency Penn, Schoen and Berland, and P.R. firm Cohn & Wolfe, found that 80 percent of the population believe it's important for companies to be environmentally friendly.

The idea that everyone should embrace some level of green philosophy and behavior is now clearly in the mainstream, the survey's authors said, a startling reversal from results of a similar study a year ago, when "the green agenda was out on the lunatic fringe for most people," said Phil Gandy, Landor's director.

Although respondents expressed a good deal of concern about climate change, overpopulation and other environmental issues, the results show that consumers are not entirely clear what exactly it takes to be green.

British consumers as deeply concerned and pessimistic about the state of the environment but not quite sure what to do about it. Climate change is seen as the most important environmental issue by two thirds of those questioned and more than 70 percent of those asked rate society's performance in addressing the issue as neutral or worse.

But when it comes to defining what exactly being green means in terms of their own actions, consumers focus primarily on reducing their waste rather than reducing consumption. More than half of the respondents said that they are driving fuel-efficient cars, and have also begun to wash their cars by hand and without a hose.

Rounding out the list of common green behaviors is recycling plastic bags, followed by the use of products that do not deplete the ozone layer, reducing greenhouse gas emissions comes third, and "supporting organisations that protect the rain forest" comes fourth.

"It is clear that being green means different things to different people," says Gandy. "There is a general awareness of an urgent problem and there is widespread belief that we are all part of that problem. But consumers have not yet come to the view that they need to address their consumption. It seems that most of us are still thinking in terms of reducing waste -- throwing away less, rather than consuming less."

Although the research found that consumers are quite interested in greenness, when it comes to companies and brands, many can't identify what that means. More than 20 percent of the population could not identify any steps a company should take to make itself green.

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