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.
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.