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Top Consumer Groups Turn to Sustainability

Boost revenue by going green and targeting the youth, women and CEOs.

Al Gore noted at the recent Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference that 26 was the average age of system engineers at NASA's Houston control room when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Gore's point was these engineers were only 18 years old when President Kennedy announced his vision for placing men on the moon.

Why is this historical observation important to your business? At the Sustainable Brands Conference 2009 (SB09) it was the youth, women and CEOs were identified as the drivers in the adoption of sustainability. These three demographic groups are searching for brands that relate to their unique definitions of sustainability.

The youth view the 20th century as leaving them a legacy of problems like climate change and sustainability as the future. Women define sustainability in terms of wellness, including issues such as product safety, medical insurance availability/cost and healthy foods.

As you might expect, the adoption of sustainability by CEOs is numbers-driven. Many of them believe that climate change is real, manmade and their organization should contribute to solving this problem by reducing its carbon footprint.

In his presentation at SB09 Frank Sicilia, chief technology officer for Young & Rubicam , said the company's CEO is establishing a goal for reducing CO2 emissions by 20 percent. The entire organization is engaged in a self-evaluation of their offices, travel and IT operations, in a search for alternative procedures, goods and services that will reduce their CO2 emissions.

Many other examples of companies taking advantage of the opportunities being generated from the adoption of sustainability emerged at SB09. Leilani Latimer, director of sustainability initiatives for Travelocity said, "The greenest traveler is the frequent corporate business traveler." Latimer's observation echoes what I am hearing across my national network in corporate America. Businesses are now including the reduction of CO2 emissions as a core business; a goal which is shaping their travel expenditures, office operations and supply chain purchasing criteria.

Women account for nearly 85 percent of retail purchases, says Diane MacEachern, founder and CEO of Big Green Purse , adding that mothers are embracing sustainability as "concerned caretakers." They are buying locally grown, organic foods that are healthier for their families. They are buying automobiles with lower emissions because they want a cleaner environment for their children. MacEachern has issued a challenge for one million of these concerned caretakers to increase their purchase of green goods and services and shift $1,000 (for a total of $1 billion) into a "green purse."

As for the youth, they have adopted sustainability as their North Star--a major branding theme at SB09. The concept implies a point of direction, the enabling information for the execution of a path. According to an annual survey developed by global public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe and a host of other brand consulting firms, young people are linking "value and values" as their guide for evaluating what to buy and where to buy it.

It is young consumers who have driven the paradigm shift from CDs to digital downloads and from written letters to e-mails. Their vision of the future holds the expectation that green will cost less and be cool. By 2017 18-year-olds will be 26 and will have entered their prime years for making purchases and they will be focusing their trillions of dollars in buying power toward securing their future and that of the families they are beginning to form.

So what are the key lessons from 2009 Sustainable Brands Conference?

  1. Three of the largest consumer groups in the U.S., with an annual buying power of approximately $10 trillion, are shifting their purchasing criteria toward sustainability.
  2. 76 percent of consumers expect to spend the same or more on green products, with the fastest growing green products are those that offer "less cost, more meaning" says Annie Longsworth, sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe.
  3. By meeting the expectations of women, corporate CEOs and the youth for credible and competitively priced green brands, the results can mean huge revenue increases and market share.

If you are an entrepreneur looking to increase revenues and to build your brand equity then focus on the adoption of sustainability by the youth, women and CEOs.

Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).

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