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Top Green Consumer Trends for 2009

10/15/2009 12:00:00 AM

Tags: consumer trends, products

At the end of last year, our friends at Boulder’s The Fresh Ideas Group (FIG), a PR agency for natural products companies, went out on a limb with some public predictions about how Americans would act in 2009. As the year winds down, let’s see how they did.   

They predicted: We’ll get thrifty.

FIG forecasted that thrift stores, consignment shops, antique stores and sites like eBay and Craigslist would see a boost in sales. 

What happened: They got it partly right. According to Forbes, eBay sales fell by 11 percent in the first quarter, but listings in Craigslist’s barter section were up 100 percent over last year. Consignment and thrift store sales were up, according to USA Today. Goodwill’s sales rose 7.1 percent in the first three months of the year and the Salvation Army saw sales rise 8 percent from October of last year to March 2009. 

They predicted: We’ll take better care of our stuff. 

FIG predicted that in 2009 all types of repair services—from shoe repairs to minor home remodeling (with an emphasis on green remodeling!) would thrive as Americans put off buying new things. 

What happened: Right on. Car repair shops are thriving as Americans put off buying new cars, according to Santa Rosa’s The Press Democrat. A national survey conducted by the Clarus Research Group for AAMCO found that 63 percent of car owners said they would save money by putting off buying a new car and repairing and maintaining their current cars instead. 

They predicted: We’ll stay home and watch TV—online.  

FIG predicted that we’d save green by keeping our entertainment close to home. More of us would join Netflix, but premium cable channels would take a hit.  

What happened: Despite tough economic times, consumers seemed loathe to give up their TV sets. According to a Consumer Behavior Report, 69 percent of responders considered a standard TV set to be a necessity—but 56 percent said they considered cable or satellite TV a luxury. The survey also showed that more people (about 80 percent) were choosing to stay at home for entertainment.  As for Netflix, FIG predicted correctly. Netflix saw a 26 percent growth in subscribers over last year. Almost 10 percent of U.S. households now subscribe. 

They predicted: We’ll use our kitchens.  

FIG said we’d rediscover the benefits (and savings) of cooking at home

What happened: The Wall Street Journal reports that Americans are passing up restaurants in favor of the grocery store—and restaurants are chasing them. Sales of California Pizza Kitchen’s frozen pizzas rose 20 percent last year. 

They predicted: We’ll keep buying organic, despite the cost.  

FIG predicted organic food sales would continue to grow for their families. 

What happened: While their prediction was predictable (they do represent these companies, after all), FIG got this right. A study released by the Organic Trade Association in July found that 31 percent of U.S. families said they buy more organic items than they did a year ago.  

They predicted: We’ll hit the bottle—at home. 

FIG believed that our economic anxieties would cause us to drink more at home—but less in restaurants.  

What happened: Not quite. A Wine&Spirits magazine survey found that 62 percent of restaurants claimed alcohol sales remained the same.  

They predicted: We’ll heal ourselves.  

FIG saw consumers with tight budgets trying more natural home remedies to prevent costly doctor’s visits. 

What happened: Yep. Newsweek reported that sales of Emergen-C rose at Wal-Mart, consumers bought more over-the-counter remedies than prescriptions and store pharmacists were being asked more medical questions.

They predicted: We’ll get conscious (at least as consumers).

FIG said we’d show more concern for what our money’s supporting and where our goods originate.

What happened: Correct. While numbers for 2009 fair trade sales aren’t out yet, in 2008 fair trade sales grew by 10 percent in the United States, despite economic woes. In response to the 2008 figures, the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations conducted a study on people’s thoughts on fair trade. Good news: More than three quarters of those surveyed believe that companies should pay workers in developing nations fairly, ensure safe working conditions and contribute to community development, and 81 percent said that seeing the Fair Trade Certified label positively affected their perception of a brand.

They predicted: We’ll be less trashy.

As we consume less, our carbon footprints will get smaller. We’ll buy less, so we’ll waste less packaging.

What happened: According to the Washington Postlandfill waste is down by 30 percent.

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