Survey: Most consumers aren’t willing to pay extra for eco-friendly

A global survey of consumers has found that people are generally more worried about packaging waste, pollution and pesticides than about climate change. But the same survey by Nielsen also found that most consumers aren’t willing to pay extra for products which are eco-friendly.

Nielsen’s 2011 Global Online Environment & Sustainability Survey included data from 25,000 Internet respondents in 51 countries. The latest findings, which were compared to 2007 and 2009 results, show that while 69% of global online consumers say they are concerned about climate change/global warming (up from 66% in 2009, but down from 72% in 2007), concern for other environmental issues are taking a higher priority in the minds of consumers and are rising with greater intensity. Three out of four global consumers rated air pollution (77%) and water pollution (75%) as top concerns, both increasing six percentage points compared to 2009. But the areas where concern is mounting fastest among 73% of global online consumers is worry over the use of pesticides, packaging waste and water shortages, with reported concern increasing 16, 14 and 13 percentage points, respectively.

“There are many possible reasons for declines in concern about climate change/global warming. Focus on immediate worries such as job security, local school quality, crime and economic well-being have all diminished media attention for climate stories in the past two years. In the face of other pressing concerns, a public ‘caring capacity’ for climate change has been tested,” said Dr. Maxwell T. Boykoff, Senior Visiting Research Associate, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. “Without continued attention paid to global warming/climate change in the media, such concerns may have faded from the collective public conscience.”

The USA recorded one of the steepest declines in concern about climate change/global warming among global markets over the four-year period from 2007 to 2011, dropping 14 percentage points. Today, less than half of Americans (48%) say they are concerned about climate change, which contrasts sharply with reported concern across the regions of the world: Latin America (90%), Middle East/Africa (80%), Asia Pacific (72%), and Europe (68%). Among the 21% of Americans who are decidedly not concerned, 63 percent indicated they believe natural variation — and not people — causes climate change/global warming.

Overall, 83% of global online consumers say that it is important that companies implement programs to improve the environment, but only 22% say they will pay more for an eco-friendly product. Willingness to pay extra for environmentally-friendly goods is highest in the Middle East/Africa, where one-third of consumers are willing and lowest in North America, where only 12%  of both Canadians and Americans say they will pay extra for eco-friendly products. Many consumers reported a personal preference for eco-friendly goods, but large percentages of respondents report setting aside this preference and buying whichever product is cheapest, including 48% in North America, 36% in Middle East/Africa, 35% in Europe, 33% in Asia Pacific, and 27% in Latin America.

Global consumers have mixed feelings about the environmental impact and benefits of particular sustainable practices. While 64% of consumers, globally, indicated they believe organic products are good for the environment, there is wide regional disparity of opinion. 80% of Latin Americans and 72% of Asia Pacific respondents think organic products are environmentally-friendly, but fewer people are convinced in Europe (58%), Middle East/Africa (57%), and North America (49%).

Among other environmental and sustainability efforts manufacturers have taken, recycled packaging and energy efficient products are seen as the most broadly helpful. Fully 83% believe that manufacturers using recycled packaging and producing energy efficient products and appliances have a positive impact on the environment. Fewer consumers are convinced of the positive environmental impact of local products (59%), fair trade products (51%) and products not tested on animals (44%). Belief in the positive impact of “local” products is highest in North America, where 65% of consumers reported believing local goods have a positive impact on the environment.

The Nielsen Global Online Environmental Survey was conducted between March 23 and April 12, 2011 and polled more than 25,000 consumers in 51 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America. The sample has quotas based on age and sex for each country based on their Internet users, and is weighted to be representative of Internet consumers and has a maximum margin of error of ±0.6%.

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