Banner
    We Want To Believe: 86% Of Shoppers Make Buying Decisions Based On Sustainability
    By Hank Campbell | December 21st 2012 02:20 PM | 7 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Hank

    I'm the founder of Science 2.0®.

    A wise man once said Darwin had the greatest idea anyone ever had. Others may prefer Newton or Archimedes...

    View Hank's Profile
    Industry Intelligence Inc., formerly ForestWeb, does surveys-for-hire in a number of industries, covering everything from food to paper to packaging.  Their 2012 EcoFocus trend survey addressed what makes the 'eco-friendly shopper' tick and concluded what marketing people who have bankrolled the future of their employers on sustainability want to see; 86% of U.S. adult grocery shoppers are “consumers who care”and "sometimes, usually or always" shop based on sustainability.

    That's good, right?  I agree, all things being equal, except it highlights the schism of what smart people call a 'First World Problem' - namely that the 1% who can afford to shop at Whole Foods and read the labels regarding the sustainability of their packaging don't actually understand the poor people they claim to care about. A First World Problem is cheering that the current administration and its anti-science beliefs blocked a perfectly wonderful and harmless genetically modified salmon, for example - the elite can afford organic food that at least claims to have no pesticides or GMOs and is fortified with ethical and moral sanctimony. The places where the 99% can afford to shop are objects of scorn by the rich who can worry about sustainability. 51% of their survey takers even insist an environmentally friendly company is the most important consideration, whereas people who are not rich or otherwise part of a government union shop at places like Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club and Winn-Dixie. Those were all criticized by respondents as the least eco-friendly.

    What was left out of the survey methodology? Some calibration, like 'How often do you actually shop at Wal-Mart?' The lack of eco-friendliness is simply perception by people who never go in a Wal-Mart, they just read about how it has no union and therefore it must be anti-environment. That thinking is due to what should be on the top of the list of Biggest Clichés of 2012 - "motivated reasoning", which is used by psychobabble pundits to explain everything they don't like about people they happen not to know, any more than EcoFocus survey takers know about Sam's Club.

    In reality, Wal-Mart has spent a lot of money on sustainability. Linda Gilbert, the CEO of EcoFocus Worldwide which, ta-da, sells marketing consulting services - says companies like Wal-Mart and the others should be doing a better job of publicizing those efforts. “In every aisle in your store, you should be trying to find ways to share both the small steps and the big ones with shoppers,” she said in their statement about the survey.  But why? Few people taking that survey shop there and the people who shop there already know about sustainability efforts.  You think customers weren't annoyed when Wal-Mart just got rid of plastic bags and told everyone to buy reusable cloth ones they left at home time and again? The 86% of people who shop based on sustainability and for whom cost is no object had no way to know that. 

    These sorts of surveys tend to be rather self-serving. At least political polls accurately predicted that poor people were going to vote one way and the rich and the middle class were going to vote another, but these surveys about demographics don't tell us much outside confirmation bias.  

    I pity poor millennials, the most over-surveyed and analyzed group in history; they read about themselves and are convinced they want healthier food than their parents - as long as it is microwaveable and in a pouch.

    Surveys about Generation Y also claim they simultaneously care more about global warming than anyone, except they care about it less - because they'd like to not live with their parents even though they care about greater income equality.

    Comments

    This may be a good example of 'fee-earning science'. Trim, retrim, skew and modify to conclude what needs to be concluded. And so the mighty dollar keeps going around - anything for a buck.

    Stellare
    There is a certain snobbism in eco-friendly and sustainable food. And I do not buy it. Literally. :-)

    How do you help the poor by making food more expensive? is in my opinion a fair question. Reducing poverty is part of sustainability and the millenium goals.

    In principle it should be possible to produce food more effectively and planet friendly, but I am not convinced we've found the good solutions yet. Short travelled food is perhaps the best bet in terms of contributing to sustainability - or smart management of the planet.
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    The nature of discovery is always inefficiency first.  I bought an early 1-speed CD burner and it was the size of a suitcase and cost $5,000, the first fax machine was gigantic, expensive and useless - because there was no one else to fax anything to...and we are in a golden age of conventional farming, at least in America we are producing far more food on far less land than when I was a teenager, but science will find a way to do it with no chemicals in the future.  Regardless, we have made a lot of positive advances. If the world could do what we have done just in America regarding farming, an area the size of Amazonia could revert back to nature and we would still have enough food.

    Eco-friendly food is still more like early computers. It can work, but not well and it is primarily for the rich. Like early computers, advances in science and technology are objected to by people who insist it will be controlled by big corporations and therefore be bad, but no one is trading their cell phone for a mainframe computer today.  Older is not better.
     
    Over time, the people clueless about food will embrace science a little more and the science will be better tested too. So 'organic' food will become more scientific because it has GMOs and this weird artificial definition of organic will go away and be replaced by the science version again. That will be better for everyone and activists will have to recognize that is has helped people and they will move on to some new scare story to raise money - hopefully fusion or traveling to Alpha Centauri or whatever.
    Gerhard Adam
    ... but no one is trading their cell phone for a mainframe computer today.
    What is that supposed to mean?  The cell phone can't do the job of a mainframe, so it seems to be a silly comparison.  However without the mainframe, there wouldn't be the technology available to ever find its way into a cell phone. 
    Eco-friendly food is still more like early computers. It can work, but not well and it is primarily for the rich.
    Again ... what is that supposed to mean?  Early commercial computing systems allowed the development of many of the systems that are still in use today, so I'm not sure what you're implying. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    Cell phones are computers today.
    Stellare
    I have just started reading your book Science Left Behind, and so far I noted that you write in a very informative (and entertaining by the) way about GMO - putting the topic into a perspective that we all can understand - like breeding cows and dogs and apple trees for instance is GMO accepted by society. So not so much evilness in it as one can believe from media. ;-)

    Anyways, this is where I am positive with respect to future development as well. We will find functional solutions that can be accepted by us all in the future. Thus far the organic food thing is too hyped and unnaturally! expensive. :-)
    Bente Lilja Bye is the author of Lilja - A bouquet of stories about the Earth
    Hank
    It's probably easy for you or anyone here to tell which chapters I wrote.  Co-authors write things together, of course, but one person usually does the theme and then the other adds insight and fixes clarity problems and makes sure it flows as part of the overall book.

    I think organic food has a lot of promise.  In the mid-1990s I was a 'granola conservative' - someone concerned about food but fiscally conservative and not part of the anti-science left. It was a lot easier then but today it is hard to find much positive about Big Organic because its gravitational field has attracted the homeopathy and other brand of cranks.  

    Basically, the future of food can be organic. It just has to be taken out of the hands of people who currently hijack it with their irrational beliefs.  It is why I used the computer example Gerhard did not understand.  In the 1970s, home computers were regarded as IBM taking over our homes by the same type of people who now think Monsanto is out to make them zombies.  But the organic food believers of today use cell phones and tablets just like everyone else, even though their activist ancestors did not. It just took time for them to accept modern technology and be less afraid of progress.