Green Industry Articles

Tips for Your Buyers: Helping Consumers Make Greener Choices

Everyone has seen the guy at Whole Foods who's scrutinizing food labels and searching for all the right buzzwords, such as organic, probiotic, and local.

Then the disconnect comes.

He loads his haul into a Hummer.

Similar behavior shows up in research conducted by Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based advertising agency focused on motivating consumers to make green choices. Its research examines consumer attitudes and behaviors to see what makes them tick. Its findings offer green real estate practitioners insight into how to more accurately read prospects. Here are solutions to five common challenges:

Challenge: When presented with a big obstacle, such as owning an energy inefficient house, people don't know what to do and where to begin upgrades.

Solution: Guide prospects to professionals, such as HERS specialists, who can help them audit the house, identify the root of the problem, and prioritize projects.

Challenge: The solution and the number of steps to greater efficiency are simply overwhelming.

Solution: Shelton has a concept called "inch pebbles." It entails making goals more attainable and less daunting. For instance, reducing consumption by megawatts is a daunting goal and it's not an inviting, engaging message, points out Lee Ann Head, Shelton's research vice president. Instead, consider spoon feeding small steps to prospects. Illustrate the value of making small changes, such as eliminating vampire energy, and the benefit of, say, fully loading the dishwasher before running it.

Challenge: The Whole Foods guy may feel a sense of moral superiority because he's taken steps to reduce his carbon footprint. Yet his other behaviors may be ratcheting up his impact. Shelton refers to this as moral licensing, and Head says it's akin to dieters' behavior. "People have a limited amount of self control. They stay on a diet for four days and then reward themselves for it," she comments. The person driving a Prius or someone who has installed energy efficient windows may feel justified cranking up the heat a few degrees.

Solution: Find ways to applaud people for the steps they have taken, but gently remind them that it's not only important to purchase efficient appliances, but to operate them properly. Wash clothes in cold water, run dishwashers fully loaded at off-peak times, and kick the heat down a couple degrees in the winter. That way, their investments best work for them.

Challenge: Middle and upper-income prospects may not find a slight reduction in their utility bill terribly motivating. "A save-money-on-your-utility bill message may not be that compelling because they may feel that it's not that large a percentage of their take-home pay," comments Head.

Solution: Understand that they do want to feel fiscally wise, so tweak your message and make it more about 'not wasting,' suggests Head. "Telling someone they're being irresponsible or leaving money on the table every month is a different slant. [Saying] that makes people feel they're not being good stewards of financial resources," she says. In addition, she notes the cultural shift toward thrift because of the recession. "Even if I've not been personally hurt, there's still the fear that it could happen any day and there's a sense that I ought to be doing something to prepare."

Challenge: Green product information often baffles John Q. Public, who doesn't really know what terms mean.

Solution: Language matters. Indoor air quality and energy efficiency are big consumer drivers, according to Shelton research. But it also found that the term "energy efficient home" was more compelling to consumers than the term "green home." Healthy air is easier to grasp than the term low VOC. "When talking to the mass market, explain the concepts in terms that people understand," says Head. One rule of thumb: Don't say something that your grandma wouldn't understand.

For more insight from the Shelton Group, see the September 2010 story, "Five Ways To Engage with Gen Y" and "Targeting the Right Prospects, Framing the Green Message," a story that recaps a GRC and Shelton Group webinar in the August 2010 issue.

Green REsource Council Newsletter, December 2010