Americans are giving up on being environmentally friendly.
Just ask Kermit the Frog: Being green was never easy—and lately more Americans appear to be giving up the good fight. Environmentally friendly behaviors are on the decline, according to a recent Harris Poll, which found that mainstream consumers are less likely to do things like recycle items, try to use less water and buy food in bulk than they were in 2009. (A core of self-described environmentalists and conservationists remains, and has increased slightly.) The survey also found a steep decline in those concerned about the planet we’re leaving behind for future generations—from 43% three years ago to 34% now. And an academic analysis recently contradicted conventional wisdom in finding that Millennials are less concerned about the environment and interested in acting to save it than previous generations of young people.
At least one marketer is tapping into this green backlash: Sunrun, a California company that installs solar panels on homes for free and then charges residents a low rate for the power generated, is lampooning the notion of going solar for green reasons. The message: Solar saves money; forget about saving the environment. In a series of tongue-in-cheek TV spots, average-looking American couples appear puzzled when a voiceover suggests they’re adopting solar power to save dolphin babies or “be at one with the land.” That anti-hippie sentiment stands in stark contrast with the typical messages brands have adopted in selling green-themed goods. For example, a 2010 commercial for Hanes’ EcoSmart underwear and socks showed two young guys in a mall, only one of whom was wearing EcoSmart products (and “helping the planet for future generations”); the other got angry looks from passing children, suggesting a stigma around not being green.
Some theorize that people have become desensitized to stories of environmental decline. Perhaps there’s also fatigue around sticking to responsible behaviors (an idea we highlighted in our Live a Little trend for 2012). But in the current economic climate, money is a prime motivator, and from solar panels to fuel-efficient cars, some green behaviors also benefit budgets. In related news: With gas hovering around $4 per gallon, sales of Toyota Prius hybrid autos through April spiked 56% from a year earlier.