Given the way all things green swiftly lost prominence during the recession, it’s fair to say many Kiwi consumers could be classified as ‘fair-weather environmentalists’. But the results of a nationwide online ShapeNZ survey of 1811 consumers by the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development show that while price is still easily the biggest single factor when it comes to the purchasing decision, big numbers of New Zealanders are considering how sustainable products are before handing over the cash.
The results are weighted by age, gender, ethnicity, personal income, employment status and party vote 2008 to provide a representative sample of the national population and they show that businesses using eco-labels backed with the right information could make as many as 85 percent of New Zealanders more likely to buy a product.
The survey, which has a maximum margin of error of +/- 2.3 percent and was conducted in association with Fairfax Media in support of its Sustainable 60 Awards, shows the top rating factors people consider before buying a product include:
- Local (59 percent)
- Eco-friendly (57 percent)
- Fair trade (55 percent)
- Environmentally sensitive (55 percent)
- Lowest cost or price (54 percent)
- Socially responsible (37 percent)
- Organic (29 percent).
A product’s low carbon intensity is considered by 17 percent while just two percent don’t care and three percent don’t know.
When asked to select just one factor, the most important was price (46 percent), followed by local and eco-friendly (both 11 percent), environmentally responsible (10 percent), fair trade (seven percent), socially responsible (seven percent) and organic (two percent).
Peter Neilson, chief executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, says the results indicate huge market opportunities for organisations selling products which are environmentally and socially responsible, as well as price competitive.
The survey also highlights the huge influence being exerted on people’s choices of sustainable products by customers’ own experiences and knowledge of the product or service, and brand trust.
The top five influencers are: personal experience 64 percent, own knowledge 44 percent, trusted brand 41 percent, friends’ recommendations 35 percent, and news reviews highlighting advantages 20 percent. Only two percent say they are influenced by famous people or celebrities’ endorsement.
Eco-labels certifying environmental friendliness can also make New Zealanders 29 percent more likely to buy a product. Another 56 percent say it depends on the label and how much background information they know about the label (for example, if the labels’ claims are certified, not just marketing).
The results indicate if sellers use eco-labels backed with authentic information this could make as many as 85 percent more likely to buy.
“There is immense power in not only producing authentically sustainable products and services, but taking them to market complete with evidence backing the claims, and getting this information to consumers. Brand trust, another major factor, is enhanced by this behaviour,” Neilson says. “Kiwis will buy the right things if sellers inform them. This is the big opportunity, the big challenge. Given no other information, price drives just over half the buying decisions. But producing environmentally and socially acceptable products and services can provide major market advantages.”
Eco-friendliness is most important to 18 to 24 year-olds, cost to 24 to 34 year-olds, environmental sensitivity and eco friendliness to 35 to 54 year-olds, local to 55 to 65 year-olds, eco-friendliness and fair trade to those 65 or older.
Women are more likely to consider environmental and social aspects of a product before buying and households on higher incomes ($70,000+ a year) are more likely to consider environmental sensitivity and local when buying, while households on lower incomes consider price and environmental sensitivity.
Households earning between $30,001 and $50,000 are the most price sensitive (49 percent compared with 46 percent for all when given a choice of one attribute only).