We recently did a Marketplace segment on “conspicuous conservation” — behavior meant to show off one’s environmental bona fides, like driving a Prius or mounting a personal windmill. In the Times today, there’s an article on how the recession has hurt the sales of less-conspicuous green products. Nothing in here that will surprise a reader of this blog, but it’s interesting throughout. Note especially the final line in the excerpt below. It’s a lovely, concise summary of the difference between declared and revealed preferences — and why, if you’re at all interested in describing how the world actually works, you should put all your energy into chasing the latter and ignoring the former.
When Clorox introduced Green Works, its environment-friendly cleaning line, in 2008, it secured an endorsement from the Sierra Club, a nationwide introduction at Wal-Mart, and it vowed that the products would “move natural cleaning into the mainstream.”
Sales that year topped $100 million, and several other major consumer products companies came out with their own “green” cleaning supplies.
But America’s eco-consciousness, it turns out, is fickle. As recession gripped the country, the consumer’s love affair with green products, from recycled toilet paper to organic foods to hybrid cars, faded like a bad infatuation. While farmers’ markets and Prius sales are humming along now, household product makers like Clorox just can’t seem to persuade mainstream customers to buy green again.
Sales of Green Works have fallen to about $60 million a year, and those of other similar products from major brands like Arm & Hammer, Windex, Palmolive, Hefty and Scrubbing Bubbles are sputtering. “Every consumer says, ‘I want to help the environment, I’m looking for eco-friendly products,’ ” said David Donnan, a partner in the consumer products practice at the consulting firm A. T. Kearney. “But if it’s one or two pennies higher in price, they’re not going to buy it. There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they do.”