This post originally appeared at fastcompany.com:
More Green Fatigue?
This isn't a riddle.
But the question is how does corporate America celebrate Earth Day? The
answer, it seems, is take out an advertisement in the New York Times.
On April 22, 2011, Coca Cola announced in the paper its new
water battle made with 30% plant-based plastic. A few pages later in the front section, TD Bank proclaimed
that, "Green is in Our Nature. Macy
joined in the celebration, offering half-off discounts to customers who
recycled their cosmetic containers.
Despite the expensive ads, all isn't well with green
commerce. Just below the fold on
the front-page, the Times reported on
Earth Day: "As Consumers Cut
Spending, 'Green' Products Lose Allure.
The headline pretty much gave the story away. The article argued that the "love affair with green
products, from recycled toilet paper to organic foods to hybrid cars was
ending, "faded like a bad infatuation.
As one analyst quoted in the article said, "if it's one or
two pennies higher in price, they're not going to buy it. But this is a rather narrow to see
buying green buying or any other kind of buying. American consumers, especially the middle-classes, who were initially
the largest block of green purchasers, don't really buy all that much based on
price alone. They carefully spend
their money to establish an image and identity. They spend the most to distinguish themselves from
others, not to keep up with the Joneses, but to separate themselves from the
Joneses. This kind of distinction through
buying requires a little scarcity.
If everyone can get it, whatever it is, it isn't worth as much. If we think about buying this
way, there is probably another way to account for the drop in spending.
As early as 2008, some analysts started to notice what they
called, "green fatigue. By this time, lots of
people and organizations started to act green. Cities were going green. Universities were going green. Soft drink companies, banks, and cosmetic makers were also
green. Even Fritos, then Walmart, went green.
In this climate, consumers
couldn't distinguish themselves from others the less informed or less caring
by buying green anymore. Caring about the planet has lost some its scarcity.
Perhaps the overabundance of
green things and ideas explains even more than a few pennies here and there why
some New Recession-era consumers are taking their business elsewhere. They are themselves tired of the environment
and they don't see its utility anymore as an image-maker. That of course doesn't bode well for
the planet and the long-term lightening of carbon footprints.