Jodi Helmer
January 18, 2011

Grocery shopping

Courtesy Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Thinkstock

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Men and women are divided on whether buying eco-friendly products really makes a difference.

For Michael and Vanessa Martin, shopping for paper towels, dish detergent and tile cleaner often leads to a discussion in the supermarket aisles about the environment. Michael would prefer to spend less on conventional products while Vanessa believes it’s important to choose products that are eco-friendly. 

“I go for the more expensive, green products, and he looks at the prices and rolls his eyes,” says Vanessa. “I’m standing there saying to him, ‘Do you know how many chemicals are in those products?’ but he feels like if it’s on the shelf, it’s safe.”

Michael admits that price is a factor when it comes to shopping for green products—but it’s not the only reason that he often fills his cart with products that aren’t touted as eco-friendly.

“With some of the labels, I’m skeptical,” he says.

When it comes to making eco-friendly purchasing decisions, the Martins are a typical couple, according to a new survey released by Crowd Science’s Just Ask!

The online survey, which tallied responses from 1,299 respondents in October 2010, found that compared with women, men are almost twice as likely to believe that shopping green makes no difference. In fact, 16 percent of men felt that shopping green doesn’t make a difference and 13 percent think the green movement is nothing more than a marketing ploy.

“The green movement is a very important element of our current shopping environment,” notes
Sandra Marshall, vice president of research for Crowd Science, the California-based research firm behind the survey. “We’re bombarded with information about companies that claim to offer green products, and consumers respond to those claims in different ways.”

Compared to men, women are more likely to choose products with eco-friendly packaging, are willing to pay substantially more for green products and believe it makes a difference for companies to follow environmentally friendly practices.

“Women seem to be more eco-centric in their shopping practices,” Marshall says.

One quarter of respondents over 55 (both men and women) were also more likely to doubt green marketing claims.

Marshall believes that some of the skepticism is warranted.

“There is a lot of green-washing,” she says. “People see all of those labels—green, natural, sustainable, organic—and wonder which ones they can trust.”

In addition to green purchasing decisions, the Crowd Science survey also looked at ethical shopping behaviors. They found that 43 percent of respondents have boycotted products for political or ethical reasons and 34 percent always buy local when given the choice.

“This was such a positive finding,” says Marshall. “It’s great to see people taking an active role in their purchasing patterns so they can have an impact.”

There is more good news for the environment: Research shows that women make 80 percent of purchasing decisions, which means that if women believe shopping for green products is important and they’re willing to seek out items with eco-friendly packaging and pay more for green goods, those products will sell.

Just ask the Martins.

“If she wants to buy the green product, we do,” says Michael. “It’s an argument I’ll never win.”

The survey is part of a larger series of surveys Crowd Science is conducting about shopping attitudes. At this time, the company has no formal plans to apply the research, though Marshall hopes that their findings might be useful to companies who are examining how they market green products.

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