Consumer acceptance key to biofuels industry future
These days, it's trendy to live "green," or environmentally friendly. Few places it this more evident than in the automotive and fuel industries, with more auto manufacturers promoting new "green" vehicles that run on "green" fuels like ethanol and biodiesel.
Do consumers share the auto industry's burgeoning environmental friendliness? New research by Meredith Consumer Insights demonstrates that, while living "green" may be popular among many segments of the consumer public, this doesn't always translate to "green" purchase decisions.
Meredith Consumer Insights director Isobel Osius shared the new research findings with attendees of the Successful Farming magazine biofuels forum, a gathering of renewable fuels industry leaders in Des Moines, Iowa.
Today's consumer trends show a high level of awareness of biofuels in the consumer population, but this awareness doesn't always translate to favorable opinions and, more importantly, purchase decisions. According to Osius, the vast majority of the consumer purchasers in the U.S. are women, and more than 60% say they consider themselves somewhat or completely "green" in their purchase decisions.
The majority of consumers whose opinions were sought in a recent Meredith Consumer Insights poll said they are generally aware of biofuels and the reasons for buying them. But, many still have questions, as half of those responding said they have questions about whether or not ethanol, for example, is safe for use in their car.
It's with questions like these where Osius says it's important the biofuels industry talks directly to the consumer if ethanol and biodiesel are to become fuel mainstays.
"If we want to move 'green' behaviors beyond a relatively small group of early adapters, it's time to start talking directly and clearly to consumers about benefits and steps that can make a difference to them every day," Osius says. "Marketing and education are the keys to moving to the next step."
While the top priorities among consumers buying renewable fuels -- environmental concerns, lessening the nation's reliance on foreign oil sources and supporting the rural/farm economy -- are fairly consistent, age plays a large role in the level of biofuels acceptance.
Most poignant is the fact fewer younger consumers polled by Meredith Consumer Insights said they favor "green" behaviors. While almost 80% of those surveyed under the age of 30 say they're familiar with biofuels, half said they are "not really" environmentally conscious, adding products must be readily available and cost-competitive. It's within this group, and others sharing these sentiments, that the industry must sharpen its efforts, Osius says.
"Consumers always ask, 'What's in it for me?' before they'll change behavior," she says. "We need some simple, concrete answers to that question."