Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have joined forces to publish a series of reports tracking current consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors in relation to “sustainable” consumer packaged goods. Consumer Spending logo

The third volume in the just-completed series, Consumers and Sustainability: Household Cleaners, reports that household cleaning products with a sustainable side have begun to enter the American mainstream.  Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment.

Recently, however, more and more consumers talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment. As with the food and beverage and personal care categories, consumers have become increasingly aware of the potentially harmful effects of artificial and chemical-based products on personal health as well as environmental safety.

According to the new report, sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases.  But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the frame of reference; these older terms fail to acknowledge the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe to be important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large.

Many consumers have, of course, modified their purchasing of higher-priced sustainable products in response to the current economic downturn.  Even so, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories that sustainability consumers view as important to their quality of life, including household cleaners.  “Purchasing rates for natural or organic household cleaners remain robust,” indicates Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts, “with 38% of respondents to a Packaged Facts survey indicating that they use these products.”

“Consumers and Sustainability: Household Cleaners,” conducted by Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group, October 6, 2009.  Website: www.packagedfacts.com.