05/29/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Know Women, Know the Sustainably-Minded Consumer: Part I

Just who is this "sustainable consumer" of which we business types now speak? That is the question for both newly emerging brands and those that are long-established with hopes to sidle into the green marketplace.

But wait -- is sustainable consuming even a possibility? I say yes, but it might be more clearly labeled "sustainably-minded consuming." Though perhaps a few have managed to go completely off the grid and outside of stores, society will always be made up of people who buy clothes, food and technology, for instance, in order to live their lives. To be more sustainably-minded in doing so, however, the idea is that a person will more deliberately consider a host of issues before purchasing the product or service.

To be sure, sustainably-minded consumers are the toughest customers. Beyond the facts and features of a product or service, and among other things, they are scrutinizing a brand's corporate responsibility to the environment and social community. If your products appear to be the greenest on store shelves, but your corporation has a public reputation for fishy finances, is not treating employees well, or owns another brand that is nowhere near green, the sustainably-minded buyer won't buy.

If this consumer description sounds suspiciously familiar, she should. The key: if you know women, you'll know the sustainably-minded consumer.

As Bob Deutsch put it in a post for RetailCustomerExperience: women cycle, while men consummate. Put that in sustainability terms and you get: the sustainable consumer cycles, while the conventional consumer consummates. More specifically and with reference to a few of Deutsch's key points, women/sustainable consumers:

  • See everything -- the above, beyond, under and around -- and not just the facts you'd prefer they focus on.
  • Filter purchase decisions through a connectedness lens. This or that product may be great for the consumer alone, but how will buying it and using it also affect family health/wellbeing, or local community and environment?
  • Seek quality of life, and not just accumulation. Sustainably-minded consumers are looking to develop their lives, not just grow or add to them with more or bigger purchases.

Knowing how women buy guides a whole new interpretation of general consumer behavior, especially with regard to sustainability. And, it is not that marketers should drop all thought of men to focus in on women in order to reach the sustainably-minded consumer. Rather, consider that, just as humans all have some balance of feminine and masculine traits, they also all exist on a continuum of sustainable thinking and practices. Some have no such thoughts and others are in the middle, passionately working to gain more knowledge. When a marketer knows where the core consumer lies on that continuum, it is a lot easier to deliver products in ways that encourage the move toward the sustainable end (with the hope that, yes, your products will make their tough cut).

Sustainably-minded consumers, no matter their gender, may reflect slightly more female ways of thinking/buying. What does that mean for marketing minds today? As both men and women start to pursue the more holistic, interconnected, sustainable ways of life, it will be important to serve those particular characteristics: their ability to see beyond the facts/figures, their tendency to put every decision through a connectedness lens, and the value they put on quality of life, beyond accumulation.

Stay tuned. In Part 2, I'll dig a bit deeper into a specific group of women who may best represent the emerging sustainably-minded consumer: The Green Mom Eco-cosm