Will Going Green Lose Some Gusto?

This year as consumers switch to energy-efficient light bulbs and trade in their SUVs for Priuses, a cliché normally reserved for fashion magazines has made its way into nightly newscasts and daily newspapers: Green is the new black.

In 2006, a PowerPoint presentation -- voiced by Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth" -- ushered in an unprecedented era of environmental awareness. The next thing you knew magazines published green issues (Vanity Fair, Domino), actors waxed poetic about reducing carbon emissions (Leonardo DiCaprio) and musicians rocked out on a global scale under the auspices of "saving ourselves" from global warming (Live Earth).

But are Americans experiencing "green fatigue"? The ratings for Live Earth, which was billed as a must-see event, were dismal. The American broadcast drew just 2.7 million viewers, making it the least-watched U.S. program on Saturday night. Despite its undeniable entrenchment in pop culture and media, some experts say that the current incarnation of the green movement is just another "We Are the World" moment that consumers and businesses won't be able to sustain over the long term.

"It's a very difficult thing to change culture," Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, told ABCNEWS.com, and Ikea charging 5 cents for carrying its plastic bags out of the store instead of bringing in your own isn't going to do it, he said.

Instead, Cohen believes that most companies are taking advantage of the celebrity support and the media's furor over the issue of global warming to make a profit -- not because they are contributing to some greater societal good or feel a corporate responsibility to do so.

"This is the story of the tortoise and hare," Cohen said. "There are some companies that are coming out of the gate and using it as a marketing tool with no genuine long-term plan to it."

Waning Excitement

Others, he said, will try to make it part of their corporate identity. The companies in the green movement for the long haul will be the ones who win with consumers, he said. Companies like Chipotle, which only uses organic food, and Bare Escentuals, which produces all-natural cosmetics, are already well on their way, according to Cohen.

Despite that, the analyst said he believes the green movement will continue, but not with the current level of excitement.

"As we know it, it's not going to sustain itself," he said. "It will truly become a lifestyle of businesses and consumers, but it's not going to be done with the glamour and gusto that it's done with today."

Regardless of companies' "greening" motives, whether they result in creation of products like a Lexus hybrid SUV or the creation of a more environmentally-friendly workplace, consumers may not have an insatiable appetite for what's being offered.

According to unpublished NPD Group data, while 57 percent of people are interested in eco-friendly products, only 19 percent believe that they are worth paying extra money for or that they actually make a difference.

"A lot of the companies are a lot more interested in speaking in the environmental conversation" than effecting real change, Cohen said, and savvy consumers are beginning to realize that.

"'If they don't make it easy for me, then I'm not going to be bothered with it,'" Cohen said, describing what consumers have told him in his research. "'I'm not willing to sacrifice my money to do that.'"

This attitude was reflected in concertgoers who attended Live Earth, he said.

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