When New Scientist
asked consumers to rate the environmental efforts of companies in various industries, they expected some gap between perception and reality. But some of the gaps turned out to more like chasms. To establish the size of those chasms, the researchers compared consumer attitudes with a database from Trucost.com
, ranking the environmental attributes of hundreds of companies (full methodology is HERE
.) When we checked on the Trucost site, it appears that Newsweek is now selling those results as an expensive database.
The survey is eye opening. For example, Whole Foods, (we call them "Whole Paycheck" around my town,) has a reputation as an earthy crunchy, earth-friendly company. But the New Scientist study
found that the "green aura" that puts Whole Foods in the stratosphere of consumer love is based on nothing but good marketing. If you look at the interactive graphic
under retail, you see that Whole Foods is on par with Krogers, RiteAid and CVS when it comes to environmental responsibility. And corporate giants such as Radio Shack, Best Buy and Home Depot do a better job protecting the environment. They're even edged out by Walmart.
What should green building manufacturers make of this study? Should they pour more money into marketing and less into actually cleaning up their operations and products? Of course not. The problem isn't much different from the age old example of the shoddy builder who moves into a new market promising the moon at half the price of his established competition. He wins a lot of bids, only to end up sued into bankruptcy a few years later. His more principled competitors survive, and thrive--over the long haul.
Of course, we can also learn a thing or two from companies that have successfully sold their green message--albeit one based more on hype than substance. Whole Foods is growing as other competitors flounder. Even a series of creepy revelations (health care uproar
, blogging under a pseudonym to weaken a competitor
) about egomaniac CEO John Mackey haven't seemed to hurt the company's image. By talking the talk of environmental responsibility, they've attracted a large and growing critical mass of devoted clients.