Businesses Hearing Consumers’ Calls for More Sustainable Products

Published on October 15, 2008
Bauer marketing professors Rosalind Wyatt, left, and Jill Sundie say the environment will continue to factor into consumers’ choices at the grocery store.

Bauer marketing professors Rosalind Wyatt, left, and Jill Sundie say the environment will continue to factor into consumers’ choices at the grocery store.

Scan the rack of any grocery store in the country, and you’re bound to notice that environmentally-friendly products are at the top of the shopping list of many Americans these days. Consumers are more interested than ever in “greening up” their lives, and corporations are responding with affordable organic products in mainstream stores, according to UH Bauer marketing professors Jill Sundie and Rosalind Wyatt.

Jill Sundie, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing and an expert in consumer behavior. Rosalind Wyatt, Ph.D., is a clinical professor of marketing and is researching how companies can better target their sustainability message to customers, employees and investors.

How long has the current “green” trend been popular among mass consumers?

WYATT AND SUNDIE: This movement has existed to some degree for decades, but particularly within the past two years, there has been a marked increase in large corporation participation and in consumers shopping at specialty stores. This, we believe, is at least in part due to the attention in the press to issues such as global warming. Another issue receiving attention in popular media is food quality and the impact of our diets on health, as reflected in an increasing interest in organic foods. People are increasingly concerned with health outcomes linked to diet. Firms have recognized this demand, and many mainstream grocers now offer lines of organic products, which are often sold at a premium price but are still relatively less expensive than branded organics.

Do you think the oil/economic issues stemming from the 2008 presidential election have sparked the increase in consumer demand for green products in mainstream stores?

Yes, these issues are likely connected in people’s minds. Oil prices increasing so sharply and within such a short amount of time, likely made conservation more “top of mind” for many people. This is also coupled with the current perceived instability of the country’s financial system and the threat of recession, so there are likely multiple factors at play here. There is widespread anxiety about the future on several fronts.

What are some examples you can give of companies “greening up” their products or services? Have these been successful or not?

Clorox Green Works is a line of cleaning products with ingredients that are renewable resources, biodegradable and free of petrochemicals. Products like bamboo flooring are also becoming more popular and are being purchased by businesses and individual consumers more frequently. Maid Brigade, a national home cleaning service, offers a “green cleaning service” for your home. While sales of such “green” products may not yet have surpassed sales of traditional product lines, the market seems responsive to these offerings. And, just by offering these products, the companies can legitimize their image as an eco-friendly firm, even if the product lines are not wildly successful.

Why do consumers want to appear socially responsible? How do products and shopping help them to do this?

Many people’s consumption decisions are motivated, in part, by their desire to believe they are a fundamentally good person and a desire for others to view them favorably. Buying products that reflect the consumer’s concern for the future of the planet also conveys that the consumer is caring, responsible and forward-looking ― traits that are generally favorably received in social and professional settings.

Do you foresee this need for environmentally-friendly products continuing, or is it just a trend? Are companies changing the way they do business?

Green products and environmentally friendly consumption are becoming the norm, and we do not see this pattern of preferences reversing anytime soon. The environmental challenges that underlie these preferences will not likely be solved anytime soon, and we expect that conservation will continue to weigh heavily on people’s minds.

By Jessica Robertson

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Bauer College of Business

The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.