Industry News | April 17, 2009

Green Restaurants Might Have an Edge--Even in the Recession

According to a recent national online poll, the economy has not dampened the green commitments of most consumers, and restaurants with a clear green focus have an advantage over otherwise comparable dining choices.

The poll, taken at the end of March during the ongoing recession, found that among the 73 percent of participants who reported they are buying “green,” only 8 percent said they have reduced their green buying because of the economy while the rest reported their “green” purchasing has stayed the same or increased.

This commissioned survey was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the Tork brand of SCA Tissue North America, a major manufacturer of Away From Home paper products such as napkins, hand towels, and bath tissues.

When it comes to dining out, the poll showed that “green” can make the difference in dining choices. If Restaurant A and Restaurant B are identical in menu, food quality, service and price but A has a clear focus on being “green,” 17 percent said they would pick A even with a longer wait time than at B. An additional 21 percent said they would choose A if the wait time was no longer than at B.

The poll also found that the majority of respondents (60 percent) said they would expect to pay the same at Restaurant A, with its “green” focus, as at Restaurant B. Ten percent said they would expect to pay less at A than B.

Of those expecting to pay more at A than B, 13 percent said they would expect to pay 5 percent more, 11 percent would expect to pay 10 percent more, and six percent would expect to pay 5 percent more.

“The results clearly show that people understand it doesn’t have to cost more to be green,” says Mike Kapalko, Environmental and Tork Services Manager, SCA Tissue North America.

The poll also found that overall consumer commitment to “green” products and services remains strong despite the economy.

Asked how the recent changes in the economy affected their purchasing habits of “green” products or services such as non-toxic or biodegradable cleaning products and restaurants that serve locally sourced food, “green” purchasing participants reported as follows:

  • 67 percent, buying the same
  • 26 percent, buying more
  • 8 percent, buying less

“Results show that nearly three quarters of consumers are buying green, underscoring the staying power of green even during the toughest of economic times,” Kapalko says.

The poll also asked participants how knowing a store or restaurant was focused on being “green” would affect their decision to visit that establishment. Examples of green focus included offering organic items, usage of products with high recycled content, usage of renewable energy sources, and establishing a recycling program.

Asked the likelihood visiting a “green” store or restaurant, participants responded as follows:

  • 49 percent, equally as likely regardless of distance/effort required
  • 26 percent, more likely if no extra distance/effort required
  • 8 percent, more likely even if extra distance/effort required
  • 10 percent, less likely if extra distance/effort required
  • 8 percent, less likely even if no extra distance/effort required

While environmental considerations are important to consumers, verifying environmental claims is an area that has many of them uncertain where to turn. Asked the most reliable way to verify green claims such as an environmentally friendly product or restaurant with locally sourced foods, almost a third of respondents (31 percent) said they were not sure. That was followed by over one fifth (22 percent) who said they would trust their own research, whether through gathering information or trial of the product or service. Almost one in five (20 percent) said they would rely on independent third-party certifications.

Other verification sources cited as most reliable included: reputation of the company (including awards and news stories), 6 percent; peer information (including family, friends, word-of-mouth and blogs), 4 percent; information on the company Web site, 3 percent; and other source(s), 1 percent.

“The results in this portion of the poll show the need for more effective education on how to verify claims of environmental friendliness and the role that third-party certification can play in that verification,” says Kapalko. “Too many consumers are still not sure how to tell green from greenwashing — the practice of making untrue or unsubstantiated environmental claims.”

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