How green is my valley?

As thousands of companies try to link their marketing messages to Earth Day (April 22 this year), a new study from OgilvyEarth finds the vast majority is not having any impact on consumer behavior, reports MediaPost.

While 82 percent of Americans have "good green intentions," only 16 percent are dedicated to fulfilling them. And the 66 percent -- or "the Middle Green" -- are pretty much ignored by marketers. Overall, 82 percent have no clue how to estimate their carbon footprint, and 70 percent would rather cure cancer than fix the environment.

"Many of the environmental messages are not just failing to close the Green Gap, but are actually cementing it by making green behavior too difficult and costly from a practical, financial, and social standpoint," the agency says in its release of the new study, called "Mainstream Green: Moving sustainability from niche to normal." "Many of the world's leading corporations are staking their futures on the bet that sustainability will become a major driver of mainstream consumer purchase behavior. Unless they can figure out how to close the gap, there will never be a business case for green."

The problem is that green continues to feel like a niche position. "Existing green marketing is either irrelevant or even alienating to most Americans," it notes. "Half of Americans think the green and environmentally friendly products are marketed to "Crunchy Granola Hippies" or "Rich Elitist Snobs" rather than "Everyday Americans."

It also found that the most devoted group it calls Super Greens pay a price for that commitment, and in addition to often paying more of goods, "there is relatively high social and emotional cost. This segment reveals that they feel ostracized from their neighbors, families, and friends." And the more they learn about sustainability, the worse they feel, with the study finding they feel twice as guilty as Middle Greens, who are leery of going out on a limb to make greener choices. "Until green products and services feel normal and adhere to normative pricing, the Middle Greens are unlikely to embrace them," according to the report.

The study also found a sharp gender bias, with 82 percent saying that going green is "more feminine than masculine," and women dominate the SuperGreen group.

Also notable: A full 73 percent of respondents would prefer to buy an environmentally superior product from a company they know than a smaller, fringy brand. "You would think the Seventh Generations of the world would have the clear advantage," it notes. "But what excites us is how much potential the Procters and Unilevers have in this space because consumers are comfortable with their brands and trust they'll perform."