An overwhelming majority (87 percent) of American consumers say they are seriously concerned about the environment, according to the GfK Roper Green Gauge, conducted by GfK Roper Consulting. In fact, most Americans (73 percent) would like the federal government to strengthen its enforcement of green regulations, and say that while having a balance between economic growth and environmental protection is the goal, the environment should come first when a conflict arises (52 percent).

The environmental issues weighing heaviest on America’s minds are water pollution and rainforest destruction (56 percent), diminishing fresh water supply (55 percent), fuel and energy shortages (54 percent) and man-made outdoor air pollution (53 percent). Global climate change, a priority in most other countries, was not in the top five.

Asked who should take the lead in addressing these and other environmental issues, half of consumers (50 percent) rank the federal government first and 62 percent believe current legislation does not do enough to positively impact the environment.  

Business and industry came in second when consumers were asked who should take the environmental lead, tied with individual Americans at 35 percent. However, less than a third of respondents (29 percent) believe corporate America has fulfilled its environmental protection responsibilities well. In fact, consumers want more green transparency with 74 percent agreeing every large company should be required to prepare an annual statement of its impact on the environment.

The study results also suggest companies that are slow to take green action may hinder their future growth. A vast majority of consumers say a company’s environmental practices are important in making key decisions including: the products they purchase (79 percent), the products/services they recommend to others (77 percent), where they shop (74 percent), where they choose to work (73 percent), and where they invest their money (72 percent).

Perhaps companies should be grateful that half of the consumers surveyed say they “do not have the information to be personally involved in increasing their green behavior” and “aren’t sure which products and packaging materials are recyclable.” Nearly half (49 percent) also say they would do more for the environment if they only knew how.

Still, four in ten Americans say they are willing to pay for a product that is perceived as being better for the environment. At the same time, 55 percent agree many environmentally-safe products are not actually better for the environment and most say they are too expensive (74 percent) and don’t work as well (61 percent).

When asked the main responsibility of large companies, slightly more than one third (35 percent) of Americans say businesses should be competitive but not at the cost of reducing their green efforts. Another 42 percent agree they should be equally responsible for competitiveness and environmental protection. However, should a conflict arise between the two, a majority of Americans (52 percent) say protecting the environment is a more important concern than economic growth.

Segmenting consumers based on their green attitudes and actions, the study identified five key groups:
• True Blue Greens: Environmental leaders and activists most likely to walk the green talk representing almost one third (30 percent) of the population. Nearly half (48 percent) turn to environmental groups as their main source of green information.
• Green Back Greens: Do not have time to be completely green and not likely to give up comfort and convenience for the environment, but willing to buy green products. They represent 10 percent of the population. Nearly half (49 percent) get information on green issues from newspapers.
• Sprouts: Environmental “fence sitters” who buy green only if it meets their needs representing just over one quarter (26 percent) of the population. One third cite newspapers as their main source of green information.
• Grousers: Generally uninvolved and disinterested in green issues; believe individual behavior cannot improve environment. 15 percent of the population. Newspapers again serve as their major information source on green issues.
• Apathetics: Not concerned enough about the environment to take action and believe environmental indifference is the mainstream. This group represents just 18 percent of the population. TV programs are their main source of environmental information.

“America is experiencing an environmental awakening,” adds Kathy Sheehan, senior vice president with GfK Roper Consulting. “However, a ‘green gap’ still exists between consumer awareness and action. Americans want to do the right thing, but lack of information, cost and questions around the true impact of current green products are contributing to their reluctance. Companies who make being green easier and more affordable will be rewarded.”