Previously a trend among celebrities and environmentalists, “buying green” has officially spread to the masses and settled among the average consumer. Mintel research shows that more and more US consumers are prioritizing eco-friendly consumer goods, including more than half of Millennials who say they feel better about themselves when they purchase organic products (Organic Food and Beverage Shoppers US 2015). In line with this growth is the emergence of more nuanced consumer segmentation, where different consumer groups value green products for different reasons. Consumers appear to show a growing sophistication around types of green product claims, eco-friendly labels and the ability to avoid products that “greenwash” – the brand practice of spending time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.

According to the Mintel report Marketing to the Green Consumer US 2014, the past two years have seen a 6% uptick in consumers who define themselves as super/true green (defined as those who buy green products “almost always” or “regularly”). The number of people in this category grew 6%, to equate to about 93 million Americans. This growth has been mirrored by an almost identical decline in consumers who say they are light green to never green in their purchase behavior.

Nearly six in ten US consumers practice ‘green’ behaviors to save money

It ain’t easy being green

Millennial purchase habits are shaped both by strong eco-friendly ideals combined with an economizing mindset. Accordingly they believe that conserving resources in manufacturing should equate to lower-cost products. Many Millennials came of age during the 2007 recession, which was also a time when hybrid cars and energy-saving light bulbs helped link economic pragmatism and environmental sustainability in the consumer psyche.

While 18% of consumers across all age groups are still willing to pay a premium for green products, nearly six in ten US consumers practice ‘green’ behaviors to save money rather than the environment. This sentiment is higher among consumers age 35 and under. As consumers look for tangible green benefits, cost savings is a clearly measurable benefit that is hard for brands to misrepresent. Brands will have to reconcile this changing mindset with products that have historically commanded a price premium. The recent recession and subsequent recovery has changed the consumer criteria for eco-friendly products. While some consumers are willing to pay more for green products, most US consumers believe that green products should come with no compromise in either performance or price.

Green claims cause confusion

US consumers are confused about green claims. With the growth of “natural” and “botanical” among the top green claims, consumers are looking for concrete attributes that are immune to greenwashing. While the majority of green beauty and personal care claims are not organic, the claim brings a distinct certification that’s less subject to marketing spin.

According to the Mintel report, Natural and Organic Personal Care Consumer US 2013, organic claims generate the most positive response from consumers in terms of being perceived as natural. However, brands should be clear in how they interpret and market organic claims while offering as much transparency as possible to shoppers. As eco-friendly product claims become more regulated and tangible to consumers, brands will have an opportunity to grow green portfolios by segmenting consumers across different demographic groups, who seek out green claims for different reasons (ie health, sustainability, cost).