by Whit Gibbons

September 16, 2007

The good news and the bad news sometimes come in the same package. A fine example of such irony is that a recent survey showed that people are more concerned about the environment than ever before. Public interest in the environment is encouraging because when a large majority of Americans agrees on something, the commercial sector and even some politicians eventually move in that direction. Who can argue that enthusiasm for healthy environments for humans and wildlife is bad? Especially since some people are actually working toward positive changes. The bad part of course is that environmental conditions have reached a point that such a high level of valid concern is being expressed.

The survey was conducted by Cone, a "strategy and communications agency" that focuses on marketing public relations within the context of corporate responsibility and "in building brand trust." One of Cone's approaches is to arrange for surveys that track "industry trends . . . and corporate attitudes towards companies' involvement with social issues," which is implemented by developing "innovative programs that respond to the needs and passions of consumers." I translate this as "how can a company make more money but within a framework of what society views as proper?" This is of course the American Way, and one to be encouraged as long as no one gets greedy.

The 2007 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, based on 1,066 online surveys, revealed some unexpected attitudes, a very important one being that "consumers have high expectations for companies to be environmentally responsible." Toward this end, a majority believed that companies can and should support the environment in a variety of ways, including reducing pollution through office and manufacturing operations (71 percent), designing environmentally friendly products with minimal packaging (69 percent), and distributing and transporting them more efficiently (69 percent). One finding I was glad to see was that 59 percent thought companies should donate money and services to support environmental causes.

A key point about such large percentages of those surveyed who supported "reducing" pollution, designing "more" environmentally friendly products, and transporting them "more" efficiently is that current environmental actions by corporate America are viewed as unsatisfactory by a significant majority. Another telling attitude revealed by the survey is that many individuals "put their money where their mouths are" by taking actions that support the environment. Thus, 62 percent purchase recyclable products, 56 percent buy energy-efficient home improvement products, and 48 percent use environmentally friendly cleaning supplies. Consumers who are actively making positive changes environmentally will obviously appreciate a company that has the same attitude.

Remember that the survey was online, which means that only the computer-using public with time enough on their hands to engage in such a survey offered opinions. However, presumably the same attitudes would be expressed among the less computer-literate public about what motivates them to pay more for environmentally friendly products. Not surprisingly, the highest percentage (72 percent) was for saving money in the long-term. The health and welfare of future generations was given as a reason by 63 percent, which sounds like good news. Of course, is the bad news that 37 percent of the public don't care about future generations? Either way, the majority of environmental attitudes expressed are positive and should result in a strong vote in favor of such issues in upcoming elections.

One of the most important general conclusions from the survey was that "interest in the environment is growing," based on almost 90 percent of the respondents declaring that they had as much or more interest in environmental issues now than a year ago. Although it may seem like environmental sentiments were higher in earlier decades, especially the '60s, '70s, and '80s, don't forget that the most outspoken conservationists and environmental supporters from then were nowhere near the majority. However, perhaps if we had listened to what they were saying, we would already have solved some serious environmental problems, rather than having so many issues facing us now. "Earth Day every day" was suggested back then. Perhaps the time is on us to take that slogan seriously.

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