Boston, Nov. 19 -- In the current economic climate, pros need a new approach to marketing green homes and products, according to Suzanne Shelton, president of Shelton Group, a Chicago-based public relations firm specializing in marketing for natural product manufacturers. For example, most manufacturers and contractors feel it’s beneficial to promote the green and sustainable aspects of a home. But Shelton says certain lingo may turn customers off.

“Consumers think ‘energy efficient’ and ‘green’ are code words for more expensive, and cost is on their minds big time right now,” Shelton explained during an educational session at the Greenbuild Conference and Expo. “There’s that instant cost barrier created in a consumer’s mind that you’ve got to work around.”

Shelton has learned that marketing green homes is about motivating consumers to make sustainable choices. “Who we’re really after here--to use the political vernacular--is Joe Six-Pack,” she said.
For example, some of the earliest purchasers of residential solar energy products were “middle-age, [Republican] Rush Limbaugh-listening white guys who were sick of paying high utility bills. A guy like that has his buddies over for a barbecue and shows them how his meter turns backwards as the electric company pays him for power,” Shelton said.

It’s the drive for this type of personal satisfaction more than any other factor that stimulates many homeowners to try a green product, the public relations specialist told attendees.

When it comes to motivation, it would seem many Americans are enticed to try green products simply to help the planet. Not so, says Shelton. Even though most consumers say they are concerned about the environment, they feel lost when sorting through product claims and are surprisingly reluctant to buy eco-friendly products for their new or existing homes.

“Consumers are flat-out afraid that they’re going to get screwed, that something won’t work or won’t save them money as promised,” she explained. “They feel they don’t know enough to make the right decisions and don’t know who to trust in making those decisions.”

This type of indecision often spawns what Shelton calls “armchair environmentalists.” “They want the government to do something about the environment, they want their kids to do something about the environment. They sit in their armchairs telling everyone else what should be done.”

Shelton’s research reinforces this point. While 49% of American consumers surveyed claimed to take a company’s environmental record into consideration when buying products, only 7% could name a specific product they’ve purchased because of a firm’s commitment to the environment. “So, it’s about turning that interest into actionable behavior,” she summarized.