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I went into my dealer’s to buy a bottle of “green” boat soap. I handed him a $50 bill and apologized for not having anything small. “That’s alright,” he said. “You can bring me the rest later!”

That’s an old joke, of course. But, it does reflect the fact that green products are decidedly more expensive. It also calls attention to an increasing number of observers who report green product sales have slumped, particularly since the start of the recession. Others claim it’s not the recession but a growing aversion to the expensive side of environmentalism. It’s likely both.

For example, while 85 percent of consumers report they’ve purchased green products, only about 8 percent say they do it most of the time, according to studies by Grail Research (grailresearch.com). Moreover, almost two-thirds of consumers have changed their buying habits because of the recession. Price is the main reason they cite for choosing not to buy green.

Grail divides these consumers into two groups: “light green” and “dark green.” The latter are more committed, probably older, more educated, more affluent and considered more likely to regularly buy green. But, are boaters really “dark green” and do they buy accordingly, or are they following the general pattern of passing up more expensive green products?

No studies have been done on boaters’ green purchasing habits. Logically, boaters are presumed to fit the “dark green” mold. That’s because they’re expected to have a better understanding of what green means (i.e. impacts on our waterways). Still, that’s just an assumption. Overall, consumer spending on green products has dropped as much as 40 percent. That’s even led to some green products, for example Essentials multisurface cleaner and glass cleaner by Arm & Hammer, being dropped from the market.

Overall, it appears the heart of any decision to buy green nowadays boils down to these considerations. First, there must be a conviction that the product is as green as it claims and that it will do an equal or better job than its conventional, less expensive counterpart. Many consumers reportedly question the impact some green products claim to make. 

Second, it’s usually down to price. Sure, some customers will happily pay more for a product they believe is green. But, the higher price for green, especially when it sits on the shelf next to the cheaper conventional one, will be the deciding factor. As the New York Times recently reported, shoppers queried, for example, in the Chicago area indicated cost was the deciding factor. Said one woman: “If it’s green and it’s a good deal, I’ll buy it.” Presumably, if it’s not on sale, she wouldn’t.

As an industry, we project an image of being green. It’s natural for us to care about the environment in which we live and boat. That said, however, we’re also in business and when market research shows a decline in the purchasing of green products, it’s wise to check our shelves, selling history, watch our reorders and make the green items “good deals” to move them out.

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