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Going Green for Generation Y: New Bentley College Study Reveals Perception is Key to Attracting Young Consumers

May 18, 2008

Waltham, Mass. - Who is the greenest brand of all? According to Generation Y the answer is directly tied to their perceptions and not necessarily reality. Those are the results of a 2008 study conducted by Bentley's Center for Marketing Technology (CMT).

The CMT surveyed 2,127 college students from across the country with an average age of 21.8., known as Generation Y, the next major consumer group and a key target of marketers.
The goal was to find out which brands this group considered the most green, the least green and why.




The survey was conducted by Bentley Marketing Professor Pierre Berthon and Director of the CMT Ian Cross. They found there are three types of green brands:

 ·    The good: those that are perceived as green (e.g. Honda)

·    The bad :  those that are perceived as un-green (e.g. Hummer)

·    The ugly : those with split personalities that are perceived as green by some and un-green by other (e.g. General Electric)

Other key findings:

1.    Perception is Key. There is often a large gap between consumers' perception and the actual action companies are taking.  

A comparison with data on the environment and social action gathered by KLD Research & Analytics, Inc. highlights the limited relationship between perceptions and action. For example, Gen Y consumers perceive Nike as being less green than Google. Yet according to KLD, Nike is by far the more environmentally proactive company.

2.    Being Specific Pays Dividends. Companies that are linked to specific actions/products rather than general perceptions are perceived to be more green. For example, while Apple scores fairly well, Toyota tops the list for the specific action of producing hybrid cars.
"What our research reveals is that, sadly, a lot of companies are spending millions on green initiatives without getting credit for it", says Pierre Berthon. "At the end of the day, through lack of awareness, they aren't getting support from consumers."

3.    Green has wide meaning. Students see the moniker "green" as covering much more than narrow environmental issues: to them it includes social responsibility and the ethical treatment of animals. "To Gen Y being "green" amounts to an ethical imperative towards people, animals and the planet." says Pierre Berthon

4.     Green matters. Overall students responded that the greenness of a brand is "somewhat important" to "important" in making a decision about purchases.

Older students and women consider the greenness of a brand more important in their purchase decision-making than younger students and men.

"Clearly one of the biggest issues for U.S. consumers is corporate commitment to green initiatives and socially responsible issues. That's why it's important to track their progress, as well as perceptions of their progress," adds Ian Cross. "We feel the Bentley CMT is expertly equipped to identify the needs, perceptions and values of these consumers."

The Bentley CMT will be updating the Green Brand Index to monitor the green performance of leading brands and to understand how corporate America's attempts to go green are influenced by real or perceived actions.
The Bentley Center for Marketing Technology is a state-of -the art facility dedicated to research and teaching at the intersection of marketing and technology. The center works with many corporate partners including Microsoft, Hewlett Packard and Mazda, as well as regional companies and start-up ventures (

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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