Editorial for Baltimore Business Journal: Understanding the Green Mom

Posted: 2.15.2010

What does it mean when a company or a consumer claims to be green? What constitutes a “green product”; not just for industry, but for consumers? And, the question that may be leaping to mind as you read this — should you care? These are questions many individuals and organizations have been and are grappling with in the wake of the dramatic rise in recent years of interest in all things green, as they puzzle over separating trend from substance.

To explore for answers to these questions, we at The Social Studies Group recently turned our attention to one particular, very influential segment of the population. Green moms. As the buying power of women is well-documented, we knew we would be able to discover valuable insights. We partnered with Andrea Learned, a leading gender and sustainability expert to research and produce a report that looked specifically at this group of women. We were curious to determine not only what was influencing their eco-convictions, but how these convictions were influencing how they are managing their households, raising their children, and what they are buying.

While a simple answer would make the job of companies selling everything from cleaning supplies to potato chips to diapers much easier; a simple answer isn’t what we found. But to anyone who has followed conversations on market fragmentation, this should come as no surprise.

We quickly discovered that understanding this market is to appreciate that “green mothers” is an expansive term encompassing women with widely varying degrees of consumption, commitment to green issues, eco-knowledge, and motivation to be green. The women looked at in our study ranged from extremely committed, willing to go to great lengths to cut their families’ consumption, truly making ‘reduce, re-use, re-cycle’ more than just a family mantra, to those whose focus was more on how the environment – think toxins – is impacting their families.

The study, based on an examination of 250 self-proclaimed “green moms” participating in social media, found that three primary categories of eco-conscious mothers emerged: the Super Greens, the Eco-Moderates and the Mainstream Greens. Two distinct profiles are also tucked within these principal categories: the Natural Parenting/ Simple Living Enthusiasts and the Frugal and Greens:

Super Greens – These women are farthest from the mainstream in their lifestyle choices as a result of their commitment to the environment. They are likely to be closely attuned to the politics and research connected with environmental issues, and most concerned with the broader societal implications of their actions. They are also among those most likely to be skeptical of companies marketing green products and services as they are most committed to reducing consumption/waste in general. They are incorporating their eco-convictions more thoroughly into every aspect of their and their families’ lives, closely examining how they live, the choices they make, and the products they use through a green lens. It is many of these women who are assuming the role of consumer watchdog. Once they research a product, its ingredients and the companies behind them—they are sharing what they find online. And mothers, those that identify as green, and oftentimes even those that don’t, are listening to what they have to say.

Eco-Moderates – These women reflect a more receptive, somewhat compromising attitude toward companies and products that being marketed as “green”. They represent a broad group of mothers that is very concerned about the environment, but that is also concerned with balancing the realities of juggling career, family, home and their desire to live a more eco-aware life. They are oftentimes concerned with their family’s consumption, and recognize
excess consumption as being central to the conversation on global sustainability.

Mainstream Greens – This group is more likely to align philosophically with the concept of green consumerism, and are less likely to associate reduced consumption as central to a green lifestyle. While they still shop at big box stores, they are on the lookout for greener versions of the products they already buy. They are focused on making “smarter choices” and often talk of making “baby steps” toward a greener lifestyle.

Natural Parenting/Simple Living Enthusiasts – This niche partially overlaps within the Super Greens and Eco-Moderates. Hallmarks of Natural Parenting include natural childbirth, breastfeeding, cloth diapering and co-sleeping, to name a few. This philosophy strongly incorporates green values, as illustrated in the approach to food which emphasizes homemade, organic meals and locavore tendencies.

Green and Frugals – There is a noted disdain for buying into consumer trends in this niche; a common phrase used within this group:“living within ones means.” These women are not necessarily bargain shoppers, but are focused strongly on saving money as well as the environmental impact of a given product. Green and Frugals are likely to be fastidious about repairing goods, if at all possible, before buying new.

Important to note is that a very common metaphor used among these women is that of a journey to describe their efforts to green their lives. And becoming a mother is precisely what set many of them on this journey.

Why listen to these women?

You can’t afford not to, particularly if you are marketing a product aimed at children, families. While the Super Greens may not be your core audience, they are acting as watchdogs, informing the public of potential dangers and concerns. And while the conversation is notably different among the Mainstream Greens, these women too see purchasing greener products as tied to creating a safer environment for their families. And keeping ones family safe is a desire that is obviously not confined to mothers of a green persuasion.

In terms of getting a handle on what it means to be green, the definition will continue to evolve. We believe, based on our research, that this group of women will be influential in shaping it, particularly considering the role the internet is playing as a consumer research and information tool. They are clearly influencing conversations, opinions, trends; and this influence extends far beyond their peer groups.

The Social Studies Group (www.socialstudiesgroup.com) is a social media research firm that provides deep analyses of social media conversations to help companies better understand their customers, competitors, markets and industries. Among the companies SSG has provided research for are Blue Bunny, Cabot Cheese, Weight Watchers and Highlights. Wendy can be reached at wscherer@socialstudiesgroup.com.