Jan 12

NMI Takes a Global Look at Green Consumers

Green, or sustainable, marketing is often in the crosshairs of critics who point out that green products, be they organic food, hybrid cars, or renewable power, comprise only a small fraction of the mainstream market they are a subset of. And, for that reason, consumers must not be that interested in buying them.

However, as experts in presenting the voice of the consumer on these issues, NMI would like to explore a range of attitudes and behaviors to help readers understand the real size of the sustainable marketplace, and what the opportunity for sustainable marketing is. This article was drawn from NMI's global LOHAS Consumer Trends Database® (LCTD)*. The intent is to understand how many consumers care about sustainability, what they think about it, how that affects their behavior, and how that varies around the world.

Quantifying the Consumer Landscape

A common way to size a market is through consumer segmentation and identifying "hot pockets" of consumer activity. NMI's LOHAS consumer segmentation provides deep insight into the attitudinal differences surrounding sustainability by identifying five unique consumer groups: LOHAS™, NATURALITES™, DRIFTERS™, CONVENTIONALS™ and UNCONCERNEDS™. These segments' attitudes and behaviors have been shown to be highly predictive across industries and countries, and therefore it is a helpful framework for understanding the sustainable consumer landscape.

LOHAS consumers have strong attitudes regarding personal and planetary health, which are widely reflected in their behavior. They are heavy users of sustainable products and exude a strong influence over others. Hence, LOHAS consumers can be a prime target for companies marketing green, socially-responsible, or healthy products. Another reason to target them is that often their buy-in is fundamental to reaching other consumer segments.

When NMI began conducting research on the U.S. LOHAS marketplace in 2002, sustainability was novel enough that it was only relevant to the approximately 20% of the population that was a LOHAS consumer. In the intervening years, sustainability has mainstreamed and now approximately 80% of adults are somehow engaged in sustainability in some way. This incremental portion of the population is referred to as the Sustainable Mainstream, and while certainly this larger swatch of the population does not have the passion or knowledge of LOHAS consumers, they are engaged in sustainability in their own way. This makes sustainability much more attractive to brands, and in fact increases the business imperative since consumers are already engaged. The Sustainable Mainstream is comprised of the following three segments:

  • NATURALITES' interest in protecting the environment is mainly a byproduct of their internalized personal drive to be healthy and is primarily reflected in their consumption of products and services free of artificial ingredients.
  • As indicated by their name, DRIFTERS are not deeply committed to sustainability, as LOHAS consumers are. As the youngest segment, DRIFTERS are steered by the latest trend. Since sustainability has recently been a hot-button issue, and with many "cool" brands launching green products, this group is a prime target and in fact is driving much of the growth in the market.
  • CONVENTIONALS are not particularly environmentally-conscious in attitude, though their behaviors sometimes indicate otherwise – they are practical consumers whose conservation and recycling efforts can make them a viable target for some green marketers.

Finally, UNCONCERNEDS are the portion of the population that exhibits little sense of environmental responsibility, regard for social issues, or inclination for healthy living.

Figure 1 highlights differences in the breakout of consumers by country. Brazil, which has heavily enforced sustainable farming practices, has the highest percentage of LOHAS consumers (of the countries included). Germany, long known for its strong organic market and investment in renewable power, has the lowest percentage of UNCONCERNEDS, while the US and Russia have the highest percentage of UNCONCERNEDS. The UK, known for having a practical bent, has a disproportionate number of CONVENTIONALS. Spain, with its many markets and desire for fresh ingredients, leads in NATURALITES.

Figure 1

Current vs. Anticipated Future Involvement with Environmental Protection

Another way to frame the marketplace is to look at reported involvement in environmental protection, and how that may change in the future, which is shown in Figure 2. There are several interesting points it brings to light:

  1. First, most consumers expect to be more involved in protecting the environment in the future, and even further, developing countries are, on average, twice as likely as developed countries to report expected future involvement. While the exact numbers could be debated, it is clear that there is a great deal of anticipated activity, and consequently, that brands should be prepared with greener products and ways to help consumers make these lifestyle changes.
  2. Second, consumers in developing countries report higher levels of current involvement than in developed countries. On average, less than one-quarter of respondents from developed countries indicated that they are currently involved in protecting the environment, which is significantly lower than those respondents surveyed in developing countries (average of 34%). This may be because many of their daily activities are sustainable, even if motivated by other reasons. For instance, in qualitative research NMI has done in the developing world, many women used the same water multiple times: first to rinse rice, then to rinse dishes, and then to flush the toilet. While behaviors like these were presumably motivated out of economic concerns, the fact remains that conservation levels are very high.
  3. Third, Germans buck the trend of being more involved in the future. Germany was mentioned earlier in this article as an example of a country that has invested heavily in sustainability. These data suggest that perhaps that activity has been saturated, with approximately 20% of the market involved now and in the future. Brand managers may want to consider carefully their future investment in this country carefully.
Figure 2

Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) is a strategic consulting, market research, and business development company specializing in the health, wellness, and sustainable marketplace. It is the only source for LOHAS-specific consumer insight and trends, with data and insights from more than 50,000 consumers across 20+ countries.

*The LOHAS Consumer Trends Database® is the original and only global consumer tracking tool that explores sustainable consumption around the world through the LOHAS lens. The LCTD is an annual quantitative study focused on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, environmentalism, and social issues, among other topics. The study has been conducted in the U.S. since 2002, with subsequent global introductions.

The following are sample sizes by country: Brazil=1,008; France=1,001; Germany=1,000; Italy=1,005; Japan=1,002; Russia=1,008; U.K.=1,000; U.S.=4,000; China=5,044, India=4,000