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The Uneven Geography Of Consumers Who Will Buy A Green Product

Indians are almost three times more likely than Estonians to pay premiums to buy from socially responsible businesses. Skepticism runs high in many regions.

The Uneven Geography Of Consumers Who Will Buy A Green Product
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

More and more consumers want to buy from socially responsible companies. A big new survey from Nielsen finds that 50% of shoppers are now willing to spend more with brands “that have implemented programs to give back to society.” That’s a 5% increase from 2011, when Nielsen last carried out the survey.

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Not all consumers are the same, though. Nielsen, which interviewed 29,000 people in 58 countries, finds big differences depending on age and where people live. For example, people under 29 are 20 points more likely to reward socially responsible brands than those who are over 65. Indians are almost three times more likely to pay a premium than Estonians (75% versus 27%).

Nielsen says that “citizen expectations of corporate social responsibly” could be a factor explaining the country differences. “In countries where skepticism toward corporate social responsibility runs high, cause-marketers face an uphill battle,” said Nic Covey, vice president of corporate social responsibility. “In these markets, especially, social impact programs must be incontestably authentic to a company’s business objectives, vision and values.”

European consumers were generally less willing to pay more: Belgium, Russia, Croatia and Finland fill out the bottom five. Asian nations were more willing: Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia all scored highly.

Whether consumers actually follow through on what they tell interviewers isn’t clear, however. As we’ve discussed before, there’s evidence that people talk a better game than they play. Nielsen found several countries where the gap between professed willingness and spending was wide:

In Slovakia, for instance, 50 percent of respondents said they would be willing to spend more, but just 22 percent said they had actually done so (a 28-point gap). Similar spreads existed in Bulgaria (53 percent willing, but 31 percent who had), Peru (62 percent willing, and 42 percent who had), and Hong Kong (52 percent willing, but just 32 percent who had).

Ironically, this insight might invalidate the idea of corporate responsibility surveys in the first place. It at least stiffens the case for improved data: Better to know how people behave at the “moment of truth” than what they tell survey companies over the Internet.

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About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.

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