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Earth Day Goes Digital

April 16, 2013 3:30 pm by in Consumer Goods, Retail, Technology

Americans continue to take small steps when it comes to environmental protection, but in the past five years there haven’t been many major breakthroughs to really super-charge “green” behaviors on a mass scale.  Insights from GfK’s Green Gauge ® survey point to growth in many green behaviors from the early 1990’s to the middle of the past decade like recycling and green purchasing.  In addition, there have been specific pockets of growth over the past few years– think bringing reusable bags to the supermarket or the use of energy efficient light bulbs, but no real mass movement.  Part of this stagnation has its roots in the ‘great recession’ as Americans turned their attention inwards towards their own financial survival.  Another explanation is that Americans may need that next, great innovation to help push them towards a greener lifestyle.  As is the case in many areas of life, mobile technology, specifically smart phone apps, may spark the next wave of environmental engagement.

According to data from GfK’s most recent Green Gauge US survey, 29% of smartphone users have used an app in the past year to help reduce their impact on the environment. Demographically they are more likely to be men, younger, and well-educated (about half are college graduates). They are also ethnically diverse, with Hispanic and African-American smartphone users about twice as likely as average to leverage most environmental apps.

According to GfK’s Green Gauge research, the most popular “green” apps are ones that help people find the closest public transportation and monitor home energy usage. But smartphone users also use apps for educational purposes, information on recycling, and calculating environmental footprints. Perhaps most actionable for marketers, however, are apps that provide information about the environmental impact of products – 9% of smartphone users have used these.  (To see a listing of current environmental apps as compiled by the EPA click here:  http://www.epa.gov/mygreenapps).

As smartphone adoption increases, this “on-the-go” green will help to break down many traditional barriers to environmental engagement (e.g. time and knowledge) by giving consumers quick and easy access to actionable green information. At the same time, smartphone apps help people tap into the social and status-oriented aspects of going green. Not surprisingly, 57% of green app user’s view going green as a status symbol and “word of mouth” is their #1 source of information on the environment.

What to do?

Make your information app-friendly. Your organization doesn’t necessarily need an environmental app, but understand that Americans will increasingly be using apps to find information about your offerings. There are many third-party apps – like Good Guide – that provide guidance on green purchasing. Make sure the information is accurate, positive, and actionable.

Use apps to link green to social capital. If your organization has a green app, make sure it gives people the ability to “show off” their activities.  iRecycle gives information on where, how, and when you can recycle “just about anything.”  This app also gives people the ability to share their recycling locations through Facebook and Twitter.

Better yet, make it a game. Making green a competition can help to encourage deeper adoption. The Opower app allows users to compare energy usage with that of their friends and neighbors.

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