Boomers discover that it's easy being green

In a Christmas shopping season in which former vice president Al Gore won a Nobel Prize for his work alerting the world to the dangers of global warming, more consumers say they are trying to "shop green."

One in five people surveyed said they will buy more eco-friendly products this holiday and shop more at "green" retailers that make efforts to save energy and resources in their stores and operations, according to Deloitte, a consulting firm.

But is the environmental surge by consumers just a flash in the pan? Not likely.

Online retailer PriceGrabber.com says 71% of customers that it surveyed said it was "important to purchase eco-friendly products." "I was stunned by that," says PriceGrabber.com President Ron LaPierre.

And then there are the boomers.

There are now 40 million so-called "green boomers" in the United States, according to a survey being released today by AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons. That's more than half of all boomers, which, at 79 million, make up the largest generation in U.S. history.

While many may not have been early adopters of environmental behaviors, now that boomers are signing on in large numbers, the effects will be great, AARP says.

"Boomers think 'I want to change the world,' " says Tom Nelson, chief operating officer of AARP. "People want to be a part of something."

Focalyst, a New York research firm that surveyed 30,000 boomers and older people for AARP, identified the green boomers by their environmental practices. These ecologically minded boomers are doing everything from buying organic products and goods produced locally (to save on gasoline and air pollution) to supporting companies that give back to the community, Focalyst found.

"I really think it's a beginning" of a change in consumer behavior, says Stacy Janiak, vice chairman of Deloitte. "People are starting to realize they have a voice, and there's more they can influence."

Yes, but are you a 'deep green'?

On a hypothetical color chart, green consumers come in all shades — from slightly green to what some in the eco-world call "deep green."

"You can be aware of the issue but not really doing anything about it, or not aware with blinders on, or aware and taking steps every day to make a difference," says Heather Stern, director of marketing for Focalyst.

Michael West of Montgomery, Ala., probably falls into the slightly green category.

"I do make an effort to shop green when I can," he says. He's replaced his home's light bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that use much less energy, and he pays more each month to get electricity from a "green" provider.

He thought about getting a gas-electric hybrid the last time he bought a car, but the waiting list was too long. "When you gotta have a car, you gotta have a car," he says.

He'll pay some extra for organic foods, but not a lot. "It just makes sense. If you can be more careful, why not?"

Bob Greenberger of Fairfield, Conn., doesn't think of himself as an environmentalist, but he's pretty committed. He's not riding a bike to work or growing vegetables in the backyard.

But he and his wife bought an '07 Camry tm hybrid and "did the whole fluorescent thing" by replacing light bulbs with CFL bulbs in their home.

"We're definitely paying more attention to recycling, too," he says. "But beyond that, we're not that involved."

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