Men vs. Women: Who Steers the Sustainability Shopping Cart

When it comes to purchasing sustainable products are men or women more likely customers? Multiple studies have shown that women make 80 to 85% of consumer purchasing decisions, but does that hold true for sustainable goods and services, too?

To find out the answer to that and other questions relevant to marketing eco, we interviewed 125 individuals and families in 12 communities across the United States, followed 8 families through a process of change over time, recorded 150 intercept interviews, spoke to more than 50 industry experts and professionals, and collected online surveys of over 1,000 households. All this resulted in the largest-ever ethnography of sustainability in mainstream America, SmartLiving in the [Big Green] Middle.


Our research uncovered two major consumer groups that should be of interest to brands when it comes to sustainability: Swayables (those shoppers open to trying sustainable products) and Fence Sitters (a harder, but possible sell).

More women than men fall into the swayable category. Mothers in this group tend to be especially interested in making healthier choices for their families. They are often willing to pay slightly more for organic food and natural cleaning and health and beauty products, as long as the items prove effective. In a majority of families, women are the primary shoppers for groceries and household goods. Our findings showed, women, more than men, can be swayed by eco messages and aspire to an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Skewing slightly toward men, Fence Sitters are a tougher sell. They tend to be more price conscious and more skeptical of green product claims; the last thing they want to be is “duped” by green propaganda. Fence Sitters need products to lead with excellence as a primary brand promise; they tend to prefer sustainable options that are more understated. This more male group may pay a small premium for a green product, but will be very demanding in evaluating its performance and judging its differentiation from conventional alternatives.

THE SKINNY: While most brands have smartly tailored their marketing to women, we see an untapped opportunity of marketing reliably quality sustainable products and services to men with performance and price as the key drivers.


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