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Environment takes dramatic decline as an issue of importance to Canadians: report

In just three years, the environment has lost its status as one of the top five issues facing Canadians, with only 49 per cent ranking it as very important.

According to Bensimon Byrne's latest Consumerology Report, concern has fallen significantly since 2008 (down 11 points) and ranks behind issues such as the price of gas, adequate pensions, the state of the economy and ethics in politics as issues that are very important to Canadians.

With financial pressures and pocketbook issues facing Canadians, most report that being environmentally responsible is unaffordable and only 23 per cent of Canadians report being very motivated to make personal changes to benefit the environment.

"While Canadians still make some choices that will benefit the environment, the majority of Canadians believe it to be too expensive in the face of personal pocketbook pressures," said Jack Bensimon, president of Bensimon Byrne. "Marketers need to take a second look at environmental messaging as a motivator for consumer purchasing decisions. The issue has lost its salience - especially for women - and is taking a backburner to cost and affordability."

One of the most stark contrasts from the 2008 Consumerology Report on the same topic is the revelation that the number of women who were likely to consider environmental impact when making a purchase has diminished since 2008 (41 per cent) to just 30 per cent today.

The research indicates that companies should think carefully when focusing their brand positioning or CSR activities around the environment. Over 75 per cent of Canadians agree or somewhat agree that environmental claims are used purely to sell products.

However, some issues do resonate more with Canadians and have a higher likelihood of influencing purchasing decisions.

Canadians would be more likely to buy products that used less packaging (52 per cent), were recyclable (52 per cent) and reusable (49 per cent) than purchasing products that make claims about solar energy (36 per cent), renewable fuels (35%), or reducing the use of fossil fuels during production (34 per cent).

Only 19 per cent would be more likely to buy a product if the company bought carbon offset credits.

"The term 'green' is even more used up and devoid of meaning than it was three years ago," said Bensimon. "Cynicism, cost and green-washing have led Canadians to think twice about purchasing environmentally responsible products and companies would benefit from offering conventional pricing and getting hyper-specific about which environmental issues their products benefit."

The following are highlights from the Consumerology Report:

  • Just over one quarter of Canadians (27 per cent) report being very concerned about the environment
  • In 2008, 46 per cent of women were very concerned about the environment. Today, only 32 per cent report being very concerned.
  • Just one third (32 per cent) of Canadians feel at least somewhat able to financially afford making changes in their lives to benefit the environment - this is a significant decline since 2008 (39 per cent)
  • Fifty-three per cent of Canadians view buying locally grown food as very beneficial to the environment, yet only 17 per cent do it "almost always."
  • While Canadians still saw almost the same environmental benefit of recycling (71 per cent), using fewer plastic bags (62 per cent), and buying energy efficient appliances (59 per cent), the importance of turning down the A/C has gone up by 10 points to 56 per cent.
  • Recycling continues to be the clear leader among actions Canadians would take to benefit the environment. Seventy-one per cent of Canadians say it is very beneficial to recycle and 69 per cent claim to take the action.
  • Eighty-five per cent of Canadians want the government to provide guidelines for companies to follow so they understand what terms like green/organic/low emission/etc. mean.
  • A big difference from 2008 is that the use of solar energy (2008 - 47 per cent, 2011 - 36 per cent) and use of renewable fuels (2008 - 48 per cent, 2011 - 35 per cent) by companies to be environmentally responsible has dropped significantly in importance to consumers when making purchasing choices.

About the Survey
The Consumerology Report is a quarterly survey commissioned by Toronto-based advertising agency Bensimon Byrne.

This quarter's survey was conducted online in English and French by The Gandalf Group among 1,500 Canadians proportionate to age, region and gender.

Online discussion groups were held from May 25-27, 2011 and the survey was conducted between June 29 to July 10, 2011.

Previous editions of the Consumerology Report have covered a variety of topics including: The Impact of Macro-economic Trends; The Impact of Environmental Issues; New Canadians, New Consumers; Corporate Social Responsibility; Retirement; and Economic Trends and Consumer Behaviour.