Yesterday Sara and I were shopping at the grocery store and one of the things we needed was glass cleaner. Normally I grab the lowest price alternative for an item such as this. However, some labeling pulled my eyes to green alternatives. In some, vinegar is the main ingredient rather than ammonia and chemicals. There were some cleaners from “eco=friendly” companies. But for the same size the cost range was 100 percent different. The least expensive was the store generic brand copycat of the standard blue glass cleaner while the most expensive was the one from the eco-friendly company. I settled on the vinegar-based alternative of one of the leading brands. It’s cost was only 10% higher than the lowest.
But I was irritated in the store. People WANT to use green products, however studies show a much lower proportion actually BUY green alternatives. In one research study, while 40% of consumers indicated they are willing to purchase green products, only 4% of them actually do when given the choice. Well, no wonder; so many are priced higher than the alternatives — and not by a little in many cases. The same study showed 3 of 5 consumers think environmentally friendly alternatives are too expensive. You want organic? Eco-friendly? Fuel efficient? Less packaging? Pay up. It’s as if those pricing products think green is a category about which only the wealthy care.
Of course there are economics involved affecting the product lifecycle. Lower costs can lead to lower prices. Efficiencies in manufacturing the old ways are inherent. Green products might use ingredients that are more expensive. But always? I doubt it. Instead, it seems buyers accept the higher prices so those selling have no motivation to adjust. Relatively low demand for green alternatives might be driven by price differences, especially in this economy.
Back to my glass cleaner experience, perhaps using good old Windex would be fine. SC Johnson claims to now make its Windex glass cleaner with 83% fewer VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Like many companies it has a sustainability initiative that includes a process to classify ingredients based on their affects on health and the environment. Or I could make my own glass cleaner from water, vinegar, and rubbing alcohol.
Sustainability initiatives and green alternatives are meaningful. In addition, manufacturers would be wise to evaluate the longer term effects of their eco-friendly product pricing, considering that more sales and product success will result, at least in part, from a broader consumer base. As long as green alternatives cost more, people will use them less.