A January press release from Channel 4 spelled it out in black and white: the UK broadcaster is committed to green. The document declared that ’2007 is set to be the year of the environment on Channel 4′ – a pledge that proves the terrestrial is taking the quickly growing segment of eco-aware viewers and their programming needs seriously.
It’s for reasons backed by research: the proclamation came soon after a study was conducted by C4 and the universities of West of England and Stirling that quantifies ‘Pioneers’ (people who buy or try products and services first) and ‘Promoters’ (people that spread word of mouth), and how they directly impact the green movement. The latest research – which used a sample of 5,000 UK adults aged 16 to 54 – shows that Pioneers and Promoters of environmental services and products are information hungry and tend to be high consumers of all types of media.
And while many might dismiss them as old-fashioned tree huggers unlikely to spend much time in front of the tube, environmental Pioneers and Promoters are watching TV as much as the UK average, with 83% (compared to 84% of the UK aged 16 to 54) watching up to four hours a day. It’s no wonder, then, that C4 is keen to program to them. Other companies, such as The Sundance Channel and Discovery Communications, have also embarked on strategic green initiatives to cater to the needs of this health and environment-conscious group.
In the US, this market has been researched by the Pennsylvania-based Natural Marketing Institute for the past five years. NMI has compiled a consumer trends database that breaks down the general population of us adults into five segments (see sidebar, page 16). Sitting at the top of the green consumer pyramid is the LOHAS(Lifestyles Of Health and Sustainability) segment. Identifying this group by age is tricky since, as Gwynne Rogers, LOHAS business director at NMI, says, ‘The attitudes that define these consumers really transcend demographics.’
However, Rogers says some things have been consistent in NMI’s research over the years. ‘LOHAS consumers tend to be a little bit older, more female than male, and better educated. But it’s not like you can take female baby boomers with a college degree and get LOHAS consumers – it’s not that simple.’
Internal research completed by lime, a multi-platform healthy living brand, does include specifics on the age of its healthy living demo: 25 to 40-plus, college-educated adults who are early tech adopters. C.J. Kettler, LIME’s founder and CEO, specifies lime usually sells for the 25-to-54 marketplace, ‘though our sweet spot is much more like 25 to 39.’
In terms of behavioral traits, Kettler adds that this green audience is generally willing to pay more to get better quality, while keeping the environment in mind. ‘These people will spend more to buy a hybrid car, eat organically, and buy CFL light bulbs that cost more than a regular light bulb,’ she says. ‘This is an audience that sees the long-term benefit of making those choices today.’
NMI’s research shows the same thing: not only are LOHAS consumers early adopters of these products, Rogers says ‘two-thirds of them will pay 20% more for products that are made in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way.’ She adds that 32% of LOHAS consumers say they will usually buy products from companies whose values are like their own, compared to 14% of the general population. That attitude has contributed to what NMI reports is US$209 billion in consumer spending in 2005 within the LOHAS market in the US.
Other NMI findings show that 59% of LOHAS consumers have purchased organic food in the last six months, compared to 29% of the general population; 61% of them have purchased natural foods, compared to 35% of the general population; and 44% of them think a hybrid gas/electric engine is important in purchasing a car, truck or minivan, compared to 26% of the general population.
It’s no surprise that NMI research also shows that 81% of LOHAS consumers ‘agree completely’ on a five-point scale that they care about protecting the environment, compared to 47% of the general population. ‘Really, across all matters related to the environment, LOHAS consumers are much more passionate and much more engaged,’ says Rogers.How green is their media?
Their passion and engagement can also been seen in the way they consume media. Rogers goes as far as to call LOHAS consumers information junkies, because ‘they read more, watch more and listen to more media than any other group.’ Those in the LOHAS segment are on the hunt for sources of educational and in-depth information, which is reflected in their preference of broadcasters (see sidebar, page 16).
C4′s research on Pioneers or Promoters of environmental products also showed a strong inclination towards the more up-market and informative programs, as well as those with a holistic message, such as River Cottage and Jamie Oliver programs (see sidebar, above). While lime’s Kettler specifies that Gen X members of the green market prefer substance over hype with their media – ‘You really want to approach them in a way that’s as honest and forthright as possible’ – the same holds true for green consumers as a whole.
Laura Michalchyshyn, EVP and GM of programming and creative affairs at the Sundance Channel, says her channel’s viewers want more than doom and gloom. ‘They want to be empowered with information about what they can do, or at least can aspire to do,’ she says. She agrees the general public is focused on environmental topics like never before, and that’s why Sundance recently launched ‘The Green,’ a weekly primetime slot for creative work and solutions in this area.
In researching programming concepts in advance of the slot’s April launch, Sundance found viewers wanted ‘shows with ideas that are attainable, inspirational and solution-based,’ says Michalchyshyn. So each Tuesday at 9 p.m., Big Ideas for a Small Planet starts off ‘The Green’ by showcasing leading-edge designers, products and processes from the environmentally friendly world, and is followed by a thematically complementary doc. For example, the April debut of Big Ideas considered alternative fuel sources, and was followed by Crude Awakening – The Oil Crash, a look at the world’s oil reserves.
Another undertaking sure to make large waves in the eco-world is Discovery PlanetGreen – a new global multimedia initiative that aims to take the widespread interest in the green lifestyle and deliver on it in the long term. Eileen O’Neill, the head of PlanetGreen, which is set to launch in early 2008, stresses that Discovery has been producing in this category for years, but has a more strategic plan with PlanetGreen to focus on what she refers to as ‘the three Es’ – entertain, enlighten and enable. O’Neill plans to offer a wide spectrum of content on PlanetGreen, from ‘very pure environmental messages’ in series along the lines of Planet Earth, to ecotravel, building and ecofashion programs.
PlanetGreen’s Web component will be used to help green followers take action and make behavior changes, says O’Neill. ‘The Web gives us the ability to have community, commerce, tools and educational content that can be very applicable to a person, especially on a local basis,’ she says.
Research on the relationship greens have with new digital media shows emerging platforms have the potential to play an increasingly important role in healthy living content. A lime study conducted by SmithGeiger asked whether respondents would watch lime’s Healthy Living content on other media platforms: 29% said they’d download films and docs; 17% would download podcasts; and 9% would be interested in wireless content sent to their phones or PDAs.
How long will it last?
The green market is brimming with educated, information hungry, early adopters willing to pay more for eco-friendly products. But are they committed to their cause, or is green simply the flavor – sorry, color – of the month? Kettler is convinced the market isn’t going anywhere. She lists three major sectors relating to green and tells how they’ve grown: according to the Organic Trade Association, the organic food and food products industry has about a 17% year-over-year growth rate. And with green building, The National Association of Home Builders says there’s been a 60% increase in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design-certified applications. Then there’s the mind/body fitness market segment that has increased 46%, according to the Leisure Trends Group. ‘It’s really a cultural shift that takes place over time,’ says Kettler, ‘and I think it became acceptable that green is not just about Greenpeace or doom and gloom, it’s now becoming a question of ‘What are the solutions? What can I do in my life?”
And as long as consumers keep asking these questions, broadcasters will have to air relevant programming to help them find the answers.