'Sustainability' Lacks Meaning for Many Consumers: Hartman Report

BELLEVUE, Wash. -- The term "sustainability," while widely used by the media and industry, holds little to no meaning for consumers, according to the newest report released by The Hartman Group, a consulting and market research firm here.

Instead, consumers ascribe very different personal meanings to the term. The Hartman Report on "Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective" finds that just over half (54 percent) of consumers claim any familiarity at all with the term "sustainability," and most of these consumers cannot define it appropriately upon probing. Only 5 percent indicate they know which companies support sustainability values. Only 12 percent indicate they know where to buy products from such companies.

"Sustainability is not seen by consumers as simply 'saving the earth,'" noted Laurie Demeritt, president and c.o.o. for The Hartman Group. "It is a multi-dimensional topic that encompasses the environment, the family, the community, and even the economy of today's world. Many of the consumer values driving the interest in health and wellness stem from a foundation of sustainability. Sustainability, in a sense, is about preserving a certain condition or way of life; the ability to control one's surroundings."

According to the report, while most consumers have a limited understanding of the broad concept of sustainability, consumer engagement can be described in varying degrees of "sustainability consciousness." This refers to the way people link everyday life to "big" problems (e.g., food, water and air quality). The report finds that 72 percent of U.S. consumers believe their purchases have significant impact on society. Additionally, a full 71 percent say they are "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to pay a 10 percent premium for sustainable products.

"The dynamics of sustainability in American consumer culture will continue to change and evolve, just as dynamics behind so-called 'green' and 'environmental' markets have evolved," said Harvey Hartman, founder, chairman, and c.e.o. "For those involved with speaking to consumers from a platform of sustainability, we feel that it is important to reiterate that we are currently experiencing a significant cultural shift in which consumers will continue to adapt their behavior to align with companies, products, and services which they find to be relevant to their current lifestyle."
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