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Higher prices prevent some consumers from going green

Consumer Reports News: September 24, 2012 05:08 PM

Living "green" has gone mainstream with the majority of consumers taking steps to save energy and water. But when it comes to paying more for products with environmentally friendly claims, fewer consumers are willing to do so, according to the latest Green Gauge survey from the marketing group GfK. One reason, says the firm, is that green products have been over-hyped in the past. That's something Consumer Reports has confirmed in its tests of some cleaning and other products that make green claims.

In the survey, 93 percent of Americans say they have done something to conserve energy in their households in the past year, and 77 percent have done something to save water. But green awareness doesn't necessarily translate into green purchases. In fact, the number of U.S. consumers willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products has dropped over the past four years by five to 12 percentage points, reports GfK. Consumers willing to pay for less-polluting cars dropped from 62 percent to 49 percent, those willing to pay for energy efficient lightbulbs dropped from from 70 percent to 60 and even the organic food market suffered a drop from 57 percent to 51 percent.

"Green awareness is indeed pervasive—but consumers can perceive 'green' claims as a negative in some contexts," said Timothy Kenyon, Director for the Green Gauge survey in a press release. "For example, while terms like organic and recyclable have strong positive resonance, they are often associated with higher prices."

The only green cleaner to make our recommended list of laundry detergents did cost about twice as much as some regular detergents. At 26 cents per load, Seventh Generation Natural Superconcentrated, a powder for high-efficiency washing machines, was very good at cleaning and at removing blood, tea and grass stains. Tide Ultra HE, a CR Best Buy, did a better job for just 16 cents a load. And several green cleaners were at the bottom of the rankings including 365 Organic Everyday Value 3X Concentrated Organic from Whole Foods and Martha Stewart Clean 2X from the celebrity homemaker.

Seventh Generation powder also did well in our tests of dishwasher detergents and at 19 cents a load was comparable in cost to several other top picks. Green Mission Organic Dishwasher Gel, which is also sold at Whole Foods, anchored the bottom of the ratings scoring a 16 out of a possible 100.

With incandescent lightbulbs being phased out starting this year, some survey respondents may have to reassess their decision not to spend on energy-efficient bulbs since in a few years that's the only kind that will be available. Fortunately, as we found in our lightbulb tests, prices of good-performing LEDs are dropping and there are many worthy, affordable CFLs on the market with low payback times.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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