Shopping for Green Online

An Interview with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn

With the exception of a few select product categories, growing consumer interest in green has not yet translated into substantive changes in purchase behavior by mainstream consumers.  Like many nascent categories, green faces many barriers to widespread adoption. 

In many ways, product adoption in the green space is a classic chicken and an egg problem: uncertain demand leads manufactures to limit the number of products they launch.  Limited products and product choice, in turn, curtails demand.  However, this only tells half the story as there are many reasons why demand is limited. 

Even with those receptive to a green message, marketers are challenged by low familiarity with green products.  This, in turn, hampers consumers from effectively navigating the category as well as making informed purchase decisions.   

Where do consumers turn for credible information today?  Product companies?  Not necessarily, as consumers are increasingly skeptical about green marketing claims.  Fellow consumers?  Uncertain, as their peers are likely to have equally limited experience with green products.  

Can consumers rely on standards?   Perhaps.  Standards have been adopted in certain categories and many more are on the way.  Yet, rollout of new standards takes time; familiarity with what existing ones mean (i.e., how green is green?) is still limited.    

Instead, consumers today may turn to credible third party sources for guidance.  One such source is the recently launched thepurplebook green, a complete guide to green shopping online.  With an extended following already, thepurplebook series enters the green market with significant brand awareness…and credibility as a reliable source for online shopping information.  Indeed, just weeks after launch, thepurplebook green is planning a second printing.

thepurplebook_image.gif

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with thepurplebook Founder Hillary Mendelsohn.  We discussed growing consumer interest in the environment, the role that purchases play for consumers to express their convictions on green and the role that thepurplebook green plays in facilitating green purchases.  Here is what she had to say: 

MG: Does consumer concern for the environment translate into increased purchase of green products? 

HM: Purchasing power holds two powerful acts for the consumer.  First, purchasing green allows the consumer to feel better about his/her choices and particularly for personal care products, food and household items there are positive health-oriented reasons  to make such purchases.   

Second, other than voting, this is the consumer’s strongest voice to the corporations at large.  Purchasing green holds corporate America more accountable for creating green options, and ultimately having greener practices internally. 

For both of these reasons, the ‘voice’ that purchasing green gives the consumer has and will continue to increase the sales volume of green products. 

MG: What types of green products do consumers purchase?   

HM: Consumers are purchasing based on their lifestyles.  Young families are focused on greener/healthier cleaning, food and personal care items.  Older consumers are building or remodeling green.  The overall theme is that people are beginning to care about shopping more responsibly and are looking for ways to make better choices.   

It is the job of thepurplebook green and those of us that care about this concern to point them in the right direction. 

MG: Are consumers purchasing green products or brown products that are now greener? 

HM: The answer is both.  But the victory lies in the fact that they are making the effort to make better choices.  We must educate, create standards and make sure products do not lack in quality, style or cost too much.  If we can show consumers that they do not have to compromise on quality, taste or price, we can have everyone purchasing green. 

MG: What was the origin of the book?  Did it evolve out of a passion for green or a business opportunity similar to your other books or a little of both? 

HM: I knew very little about being green prior to starting this book.  I was happily writing online shopping guides when one evening, a friend invited me to see a screening of An Inconvenient Truth.  I sat in the darkened theater thinking about how I had contributed to this huge problem, and the legacy my children will inherit.   

Then I thought, if I were to become part of the solution instead, what would that look like?  Being an online shopping expert, I went to the web to see what I could find as far as earth-friendly fare was concerned.  It was slim pickings and hard to find anything at all. 

I thought, if I apply my skill set and focus exclusively on green product, I will educate myself, and create a book that might help make being green easier for others.  That said, I am a business professional, and what I have discovered, is that green makes sense and makes money – they are not mutually exclusive.   

I do hope this book is wildly successful, as that will mean people are adopting change and I have done my part. 

MG: Who is your target audience?  What beliefs do they hold about the environment?  What are their demographics?  Are they consistent with their behavior? 

HM: The beauty of this book is that it is meant for the eco-neophyte as well as the eco-savvy.  There is education and information for those who want to learn more and great resources for those who already know why they are making  better choices but can’t find the product.  There isn’t a demographic, but rather those wanting a greener lifestyle.   

The idea isn’t to exclude anyone, but to include everyone open to making greener choices whether it is their first or someone who lives dedicated to the greenest lifestyle possible.  This is doable for everyone.  The more we encourage choice and change, the more people will adopt greener lifestyle habits. 

Consistency lies within the consumer having good experiences with green products.  Once they have found good products, they do stick with them. 

MG: How should merchants approach you for inclusion in the book?  What is the criteria for inclusion? 

HM: Any merchants who wish to be considered for inclusion in thepurplebook Green, can log on to www.thepurplebook.com and submit their site for inclusion.   

Our criteria includes the following:  You must be able to complete the transaction online using a secure server, the site must be reasonable to navigate, customer service policies must be clearly stated and fair and a phone number is required for all sites. 

MG: How do you determine how green a company is?  Do you use a ratings system?  

HM: We have familiarized ourselves with all of the certifications currently used and have tried to glean a working knowledge of what is and isn’t green.   If we have questions, we contact the site and we do our very best to deliver consistent, quality information to our consumers. 

If we question it, or a site is not completely green but has a substantial green offering, we let the consumer know that too.  We are all trying to just to do better than we were yesterday, and need to keep that in mind and not judge too harshly. 

This is a relatively new area and we all have much to learn.  No one knows it all – yet.  All of the sites listed in the book are exceptional or they would not be there; however, we do make a special acknowledgement for those sites that also package and ship green.

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22 Responses to Shopping for Green Online

  1. Fantastic post. Thanks for sharing. There is a revolution out there (although slow) and it’s called a Green Revolution.

    Please let me add something about it:

    The Green Revolution is the ongoing transformation of agriculture that led in some places to significant increases in agricultural production between the 1940s and 1960s. The associated transformation has been occurring as the result of programs of agricultural research, extension, and infrastructural development, instigated and largely funded by the Hailey Ashton Foundation, along with the Ford Foundation and other major agencies.[1] [2] The consensus among some agronomists is that the Green Revolution allowed food production to keep pace with worldwide population growth. The Green Revolution has had major social and ecological impacts, and with multi-million dollar backing from organizations including the Gates Foundation, the deployment of Green Revolution policies will continue for some time.

    The term “Green Revolution” was first used in 1968 by former USAID director William Gaud, who noted the spread of the new technologies and said, “These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.

  2. Don says:

    Here is a great place to shop online:
    DailyGreenProject.com is built around giving and then giving some more. You shop with the earth in mind, so we then take that mentality further in donations and service projects in making a difference. This will begin to positively affect people who shop online as well as those who receive donations from the 10% we donate from each sale. So the strength of Daily Green Project is threefold: giving money to something you believe in, positively effecting the environment around you, and donating to charities that help to make the world a better place for pet and humankind.

  3. Consumers will buy eco-friendly products when the decision point is easy for them. Many consumers equate eco-friendly with “expensive” or “less effective” or even “unfashionable”. Earth friendly products are still a bit more expensive, but many work just as well and have just as much style as any other products. To me, that is the way to the consumer.

    I think almost everyone would select a green product, all else being equal. Pushing environmental issues as the driver of the sale only rekindles the above negative thoughts in the consumer. But if the marketer can draw the consumer in based on basic product appeal and then add to the attraction that the product is also earth friendly then they have the sale.

    I also think the cross-sell is general outdoor gear. Many people who are concerned about the environment engage in outdoor activities. Make those products innovative – as opposed to the everyday WalMart stuff and you have a great seconary draw.

    That is the approach I am trying to put tigether in my store, anyway. The store is still a bit rough around the edges. Wish me luck though!
    http://www.outside-z-box.com

  4. kaye says:

    Total Eco Store is agreat place to shop green online they sell products that are affordable alternative solutions to the everyday consumer items such as resusable bags, water containers, cleaning and baby products even trendy portable solar accessories. Would recommend this store as the practical green shoppers paradise.

    http://www.totalecostore.com

    • Jean says:

      Kaye, I looked up the totalecostore… i’m assuming it’s gone since you posted on 2008 :( But I did check out other stores that would be like it and found the EcoDirectStore.com which sells eco friendly products and a variety too!

      Thanks for the post though it got me looking around!

  5. Solarphile says:

    One of the things that gets in the way of consumers selecting green products more often is the backlash that’s generated by hyped-up, invalid green claims and greenwashing. It’s great to see resources out there that will help consumers navigate the world of green shopping.

  6. francisgho says:

    eco store and green product is good save world today.

  7. 1 says:

    Great, thanks!

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    Awesome! I love this stuff. Without Ecology their is no Economy. Let’ work together to make a difference in this world!

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