EcoMeme: 2009 Study Finds U.S. Consumers Prefer Greener Gadgets

tv ipod and kids

A newsletter from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) this December predicted that 80% of shoppers would purchase new electronics over the holidays. Meanwhile, the gadget-loving blogosphere has fanned the flames of this worldwide appetite, with a flurry of year-end picks, pans, on sale and what’s next lists.

Hard to believe we’re not yet sated. In 2009, the worldwide sale of DVD players alone has already reached 115 million units (worth some $15 billion) according to GfK Retail and Technology. Add to that the last minute sales of the latest Wii, PS3, Xbox, iPhone, RIM Blackberry, Motorola, and hundreds of other electronics and appliances, and we’ve got a lot of potential landfill.

At least there’s hope for a shift to greener electronics manufacturing and American purchasing habits.

A new study by the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith school of business, The 2009 National Technology Readiness Survey, found that U.S. consumers given a choice between “two equally priced big-ticket consumer electronics products,” like a TV or computer, where features and functions are identical but one is “manufactured in a way that is good for the environment,” 92 percent choose to buy the one with the green advantage.

The average shopper is willing to pay 11 percent more – $55 on top of a $500 price tag – for a “big ticket electronic product that is manufactured in a green friendly manner,” the study also found. And consumers who label themselves as “leading edge” in adoption of green tech are willing to pay even more.

Among all shoppers, not just tech geeks, the survey found 40 to 50% of U.S. consumers identify as either “green oriented” or “sympathetic to the green movement.” But what will it take to get manufacturers of – well, everything – to step up?

P.K. Kannan, a marketing professor with the team that conducted this survey, explains: “If market shares in the range of 20-30% [of American consumers] are sufficient for a break-even, then product manufacturers should be able to cover the costs of going green easily.”

While he didn’t have numbers from the electronics industry, he did say that cleaning product manufacturers typically add a 5-10% manufacturing cost to go green.

Kannan offers advice to brand managers and companies on the brink of an eco evolution. To succeed with the new green-minded market, he says, they have to “Make a sincere effort – not a gimmicky one.” Some of the respondents that his team surveyed indicated that “they are willing to pay extra for green products, but were disappointed with the overall quality of those they have had experienced so far.”

That applies to everything from low-tech soaps and paper goods, to hybrid vehicles and electronics.

Read up on what’s hot, green and not, and make your demand for greener gadgets known.

Basic Reading:

“Finally, a rechargeable battery that delivers as much juice as disposables. PowerGenix took high-power-producing nickel-zinc chemistry, typically too short-lived to be useful, and increased its life span 10-fold by using a water-based electrolyte that doesn’t dissolve the vulnerable zinc…”- Popular Science, from a collection of 100 best innovations of 2009, including green electronics

“The new web site and iPhone application Goodguide empowers consumers to make informed purchasing decisions that impact people and the planet. By entering a product’s name, or scanning the barcode of an item using the app, customers can learn about the health, environmental, and social effects of their purchases.” – Mashable’s short list of “social good” tech trends of 2009, including social media and mobile apps you can use on your (hopefully green) gadgets

A guide to electronics, their toxic contents, recycling and shopping for greener gadgets from the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports,

Further Resources:

A ComputerWorld review of desktop PCs that claim to use less energy than competitors

A 2009 green gifts for techies list by

Sustainablog’s guide to buying a used laptop that works

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of EcoMeme, a column featuring eco news, tech and business highlights by Lora Kolodny.

Image: Rev Dan Catt