Monday, December 01, 2008

New Survey of Consumers and Climate Change Presents Marketing, Policy Challenges

A new survey on Americans' attitudes towards climate change found a mixed bag of results: While consumers are generally worried about climate change and think something should be done about it, they are divided as to who is responsible for that solution.

The survey comes from EcoAlign, a strategic marketing agency that specializes in energy and environmental issues. In October, they conducted an online survey of 1,000 people representative of the rest of the U.S. according to sex, age, region and ethnicity.

The full report can be read here. The main findings include:
  • Consumers generally agree on the definition of climate change, the importance of reducing it and some sort of role of that the individual must play in that reduction.
  • One half of all Americans surveyed indicated that reducing climate change was “extremely important” or “very important” to them. Another 22 percent indicated that it was “important.”
  • Forty-one percent of Americans are “worried” about climate change, with a 11-point difference between men and women.
  • Forty-six percent of Americans surveyed believe individual citizens have the primary responsibility to reduce climate change. However, 53 percent of Americans lack confidence that they personally can impact climate change.
  • Nearly one third of Americans believes that no utility bill increase is necessary to manage climate change, and another 44 percent say less than 10 percent. A 16-point difference exists between Republicans and Democrats on the nation’s ability to pay the costs of climate change.
  • One third of Americans (45 percent of Republicans) would be very dissatisfied if they had to pay 10 percent more for electricity to address climate change.
While 46 percent believe individuals have the "primary responsibility" for combating climate change, when asked the best way for society to pay for the costs of managing climate change, respondents overwhelming stated that corporations that contribute to climate change (via their emissions, for example) should be penalized.

So in short: Americans know climate change is a problem, they generally think something should be done, and - while individuals have the primary responsibility to help solve it - they believe the best way to pay for it is by penalizing corporations (but don't forget that our actions and consumer choices contribute to those emissions, too!). And, individuals won't help combat climate change if mitigating emissions means any change in lifestyle or if the changes negatively impact their wallets.

Whether an individual is open to government involvement in climate change solutions varies by demographic (women are more open to it than men), as does an individual's belief that their personal actions can have an impact (again, women are more apt to believe that their actions do make a difference).

Therein lies the challenge for any company promoting a product that may have a higher cost but is better for the environment or any policymaker balancing cost and results: Create an effective product or policy, make sure it doesn't make anyone change their lifestyle (but still have an impact), and make sure consumers don't (directly, at least) pay for it.

Regarding the marketing problem first: EcoAlign recommends a strategy they call "cell activation marketing." This means focusing your company's efforts on smaller, "moveable" groups within the larger targeted group that may be more stubborn to change (for example, middle-aged male Republicans, according to this particular survey). Make sure your messengers reflect the demographics of the targeted group. This will help build trust and credibility.

Segmenting audiences and customizing key messages and messengers is hardly a newsflash to the marketing world. But in the area of energy, where so many companies are trying to break into the sector and so many products are flooding the market, it's even more important to be conscious of your audience and tailor the messages and messengers accordingly. For example, women are more concerned about climate change than men and are more optimistic that their individual actions can make a real difference. So if an eco-friendly product is targeted at women, messages about the true impacts and benefits of the product on the environment may resonate more (but no greenwashing allowed).

A similar, time-tested strategy of knowing your audience and segmenting your messengers accordingly is relevant to the policy world as well. Middle-aged, male Republicans are going to need to hear the message from a trusted thought leader in their group.

As far as specific policies, I think the findings of the survey - that Americans want to do something about climate change but don't want to alter their lifestyle or pay more - present a great opportunity to implement the fastest, cheapest, easiest way to combat climate change: energy efficiency. Using technology to make people's lives faster, smarter, cheaper and - oh yeah - save energy and cut emissions, is certainly not as sexy as a wind turbine or solar panel but looks to be best suited to many Americans' attitudes, motivation and frankly the economic reality of the moment. So while we must not slow in our pursuit of increasing our use of renewable energy, policies that encourage energy efficiency and products that allow consumers to save money while living better may have brightest future.


Anonymous said...

I like that energy efficiency was pointed out here as opposed to the glamorous means of reducing emissions; it is a net positive economically on an individual scale and requires the least in terms of lifestyle change. That said, I think there are two main barriers to boosting efficiency.

1) Laziness. People tend to ride off regular costs as unavoidable. Without a (financial) shock these people will remain inactive and retain inefficient buying and lifestyle habits. The spike in gas prices were one such shock.

2) Misconception. There is an inaccurate perception among many people that if something uses less energy than it must have lower utility.

I'm all for direct or indirect taxation on wasteful consumption while at the same time I'm against pure reward (rebate) programs that don't change the cost for those who refuse to get out of the status quo (give them a little financial shock). As mentioned in the post, indirect taxation seems to be the most politically feasible route. Another might be a fee and rebate program (see

Maria Surma Manka said...

Good points David. I agree that the perception of inferior technology can be a hurdle, and I also think pure laziness is at least as big of an issue. There's a certain spoon-feeding that's going to have to happen with some efficiency technologies: Communicating the cost savings, energy savings and improved lifestyle of any advances.

Swati said...

I came across the following useful documents related to energy efficiency.
• The E&U webcast "Green Data Centers:Game Changer for Energy & Utility Organizations" is available on demand :

• The FSS webcast, "Going Green is Good Business" is available on demand for clients in the banking, insurance, and financial services industries:

• The white paper about going green in the FSS sector is available for clients in the banking, insurance, and financial services industries:

• Here is the invitation for December 4th green data center webcast to clients in the government, healthcare, and education industries: