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2010 Consumer Study By SFC and WMC Finds Economic Effects On "Green" Purchases

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The Sustainable Furnishings Council and sponsor World Market Center Las Vegas announced that they are releasing the third wave of their annual Green Home Furnishings Consumer Study conducted in September 2010.

The study was conducted among 351 women home owners across the country between the ages of 30 to 60 years. As in the first two studies, the purpose was to provide trend data on consumer awareness, attitudes and behavior as each relates to a variety of environmental issues and the home furnishings industry.

Overall, findings are consistent with prior years showing significant interest in buying green home furnishings, though actual purchasing remaining very low due to lack of awareness and/or availability of options. However, findings appear this year to have been strongly influenced by ongoing consumer concerns about the economy or respondent’s own financial well being. This is observed in a number of different places in the study, beginning with the incidence of qualified respondents. It proved to be twice as difficult to find people who had spent at least $500 on home furnishings in the past year. There is also a consistently more negative response pattern to questions related to pricing, price expectations, purchasing, etc. This suggests that consumers at the present time may be less home involved and more apprehensive about any spending which in turn could depress all reactions, and in fact there is a moderate erosion in most measures throughout the study vs. prior years. This may well reflect some legitimate plateauing of consumer interest and motivation, but it is difficult to discern vs. the clear sense of exhaustion with economic worries.

As in prior years, about 2 in 4 consumers rate themselves as very or extremely aware and concerned about a range of environmental issues from toxic pollution to using up natural resources to deforestation with no clear winner, meaning the “engaged” population has been holding steady at about 50%. Most are taking action in a variety of ways from recycling at home to switching to CFL light bulbs, and over half have purchased green products in a variety of categories, but purchasing of green home furnishings specifically remains very low at 4%. The main obstacles continue to be lack of awareness/availability. This indicates a supply and marketing problem more than concept or product dissatisfaction. Additionally, there is an ongoing expectation that green products will cost more. “Environmentally safe” is the preferred term for green products, suggesting health & wellness or safety claims may be most compelling.

Despite these issues, the projected trial rate for green home furnishings is high at 37%, a drop of 10 points from 2009 but comparable to 2008. Importantly, this interest is qualified as a style they would like and priced about the same as other options. Before this year, this has meant pricing up to 10% more. In 2010, there is a significant shift toward no more than 5%, underscoring market price sensitivity. This is not to say that better quality goods cannot carry a premium, simply that there is little pricing or margin opportunity on the sole basis of an environmental benefit. Instead, it is a second tier tie breaker, something that can sway people only after they have been satisfied on style, quality and price.

New questions were added this year to get a better understanding of the market for certified wood, kids and gift. Certified wood performed similarly to green products overall, though at a lesser level, understandable as it is a more limited topic area. Health and safety concerns appear to be motivating for purchasers of children’s furniture with a projected trial rate of 45% among moms with kids. Sustainability does not appear to be a factor in buying gifts. These findings are consistent with a broader understanding of the market. Moms are highly sensitized to health issues as family caretakers, and so it makes sense that whatever a person’s views, they would be less likely to impose those views on someone else in the form of a gift.
Actual data from the study is available to those media members interested in writing more extensively on the subject by contacting Susan Inglis at
susan@sustainablefurnishings.org or 919.967.1137.

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