Q&A with NBCU’s Gallent: ‘Out of That Concern for the Economy is Where ‘Green’ Takes Hold’

Today kicks off Earth Week (Earth Day is on Friday), and to get in the eco-friendly state of mind, we spoke with Janet Gallent, head of insights for NBCUniversal’s Green is Universal initiative. The group just published the results of its poll “Green in the Economy II,” a follow-up to the first iteration of this study conducted in 2009, which looks at consumer sentiment about going green and sustainability.

This year, reuse and recycling is the theme for Green is Universal’s Earth Week activities, demonstrated by the “Art of Reuse” contest that’s happening now with Etsy. Findings from the initiative’s recent study show that recycling is a priority for consumers.

This follow up poll found an eight point increase in the brand loyalty category, with 68 percent of respondents saying it’s worth paying a little extra for a green product if it’s a brand they trust. Ninety-three percent of respondents said it’s their “personal responsibility to take care of the Earth,” 90 percent of respondents said companies have a responsibility to “protect the environment,” and 77 percent said they think more favorably about “companies that promote environmental causes.”

Green is Universal conducted an online survey of 1,647 adults 18 years of age and older in the U.S. who are members of the NBCUniversal Contemporary Consumer Panel between February 25 and March 8, and another 844 U.S. adults from the panel between March 9 and March 14.

Below, we talk with Gallant about the results and why going green isn’t a fad despite the concern over the economy.

What is the most significant finding from the research?

What was exciting about the research was we went back into the field with the same study two years later and found some significant differences. An eight percentage point rise is a very significant one and we found it in terms of consumers embracing green in brands they trust.

Another significant finding – and it makes sense in terms of where we are in the new consumer mindset – is consumers are saying increasingly that green consumerism is a way to shop with your values and ethics. And we do see that values and ethics are being brought into the marketplace more than ever before.

The other significant increase is [consumers] are putting their money with their mouth is. We found an increase in boycotting; an increase in the people who have said that in the past year they have boycotted a company whose policies and practices they don’t like as it relates to the environment. So what we’ve been saying and what is very much the case is there’s so much more upside for companies that embrace the environment and help the consumer to do their part.

We also found an increase in recycling activity as a result. Six out of 10 said their recycling bins were more full than their trash bins. And nine in ten said companies have that responsibility too.

There were predictions that with the recession, the enthusiasm for all things green might subside. To what do you attribute the fact that consumers are still so concerned with the environment?

To put it in perspective, the economy is really the number one concern. But out of that concern for the economy is where “green” takes hold. This issue of not being wasteful, of taking active steps toward conservation, the ethics and thrift, it comes out of the economy. Consumer behavior is rooted in the new consumer as a result of the new economy. There are things that companies can do to leverage the consumer mindset that’s coming out of this economy. Part of our study examined what consumers are looking for in products and many of these qualities are inherent in “green”: they’re willing to pay more for durability, high quality, convenience, health and wellness, safety, and cost savings.

You touched on trust in your first response. Are consumers looking to trust in the companies themselves? In the brands? Where does the trust lie?

They’re looking for companies that they trust are reputable and true to their words. What we found in 2009 and continued in 2011, eight in ten consumers are still concerned about greenwashing. So if you’re going to make a green claim, you have to be transparent. If it’s a brand they know and trust that gives you a leg up. At the same time consumers are going to be skeptical about green claims, or at least some green claims, if they don’t have that trust.

[The image above is a portion of an infographic that can be seen here in its entirety.]