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Big data and consumer preferences

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I sat down with Dr. Charlie Hall last month to talk about his research into the drought, consumer attitudes and the general future of the green industry. You can read our full conversation in the forthcoming December issue of L&L, but here’s a sneak peek:

L&L: What projects are you working on? What’s got your interest right now?
Hall: It’s almost easier to answer what am I not doing. There’s consumer research and there’s research I do with colleagues on benchmarking the industry and in terms of production practices.

I’m also doing some research on the carbon footprint of shade trees right now. We call ourselves the green industry, but in many respects we’re not quite sure how green we are. Of course, the use of water for outdoor landscaping is a hot topic. So we’ve got to know what our footprint is, both in terms of carbon footprint and our water footprint for the future to be able to justify to legislators, and to city and municipal leaders, why we need to continue watering landscapes versus putting a moratorium on outdoor watering.

And I’m doing a whole lot of consumer research on people’s attitudes toward local, organic, sustainable plants. A lot of research has been done on food products but not necessarily on ornamental. So we’re looking at their attitudes on does it make a difference if a plant’s produced locally or whether it’s produced in an energy saving manner or a water saving manner. Or whether or not the plants are water conserving in the landscape. Does that mean anything to folks right now?

L&L: Can you share any initial findings or can you kind of give me an idea what people are thinking?
Hall: I’d say in general people are more responsive and more willing to pay a premium for products right now that are energy conserving rather than water conserving. But that’s also dependent on which region of the country they are. So if they’re in Michigan, they don’t think too much about whether a plant’s water conserving or not. But in Texas they do. Cause, you know in 2011 we lost a heck of a lot of plant materials down here in the state.

And a lot of folks decided, well, I think I’m gonna go back in the hardscape versus plants in my landscape. So we’re trying to measure those attitudes. They’re not looking at water conservation, either in growing the plants or water conservation in the landscape, as heavily as what we might have thought. Except in the regions of the country where that’s been hit by drought.

Hall and his team have spent years compiling research that outlines the economic benefits of plants and the tangible benefits the green industry has on people’s lives.

Apart from great cocktail party conversation, these data should be in your marketing materials and proposals. You can access his reports here.


November 14th, 2012 at 6:19 pm