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Consumers and Sustainability: Household Cleaners


Attention: There is an updated edition available for this report.

This report forms part of a series jointly published by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts on Consumers and Sustainability. This four-part series covers in separate reports the markets for foods and beverages, personal care products, household cleaners, and OTC medications and supplements.

Sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” (76%) and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases. Thus, nearly half of consumers associate sustainability with conserving natural resources and with recycling.

But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the term. “Green” falls short as a description for the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe are important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. Adoption of sustainable products mirrors the health and wellness progression that The Hartman Group has previously reported, in which consumers first consider the impacts of things in the body, followed by on the body, and finally around the body.

As consumers become more educated about the environmental, social, and economic implications of their shopping habits, their health and wellness motivations dovetail with societal concerns, such that four zones of sustainability become relevant to purchasing choices:

  • The Personal Benefit Zone
  • The Environmental Zone
  • The Social Zone
  • The Economic Zone

Household cleaning products with a sustainable side have only recently begun to enter the American mainstream. Conversations with consumers about the household cleaning category, including a range of laundry products, household cleaners and polishes, reveal a shift in the way consumers think about why and how they clean their home.

Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment. Recently, however, more and more consumers talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment. As with the food and beverage and personal care categories, consumers have become increasingly aware of the potentially harmful effects of chemical-based cleaners on personal health as well as environmental safety. This shift in perspective has implications for the personal benefits consumers look for as well as the role of the environmental and social zones of sustainability in the marketing of products in the household cleaners category.

Read an excerpt from this report below.

Series Methodology

This report series was jointly produced by The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts, and is based on The Hartman Group’s 2009 multi-category study, Sustainability: The Rise of Consumer Responsibility. In addition, Packaged Facts provides an update of consumer attitudes and spending based on a proprietary online poll conducted in February 2009 and on Experian Simmons surveys fielded from November 2008 to June 2009.

The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods

This report draws primarily on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adults conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group to understand consumer attitudes and behaviors related to sustainability. The sample was drawn from a panel of adult U.S. consumers with Internet access, and was designed to provide good representation of the U.S. population according to geographic area, age, gender, race and income. The Hartman Group also conducted qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008, using consumer ethnography with fifty consumers as the cornerstone of qualitative research. Ethnographic interviews included one-on-one conversations at an individual’s home or at a specific retail setting, as well as group interviews also at consumers’ homes. These engagements garnered more than 100 hours of in-depth, revelatory consumer discussion.


Market Insights: A Selection From The Report


Paradigm Shift for Household Cleaners

Conversations with consumers about the household cleaning category, including a range of laundry products, household cleaners and polishes, reveal a shift in the way consumers think about why and how they clean their home. Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment. However, consumers now talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment. Chemical-based ingredients such as ammonia and bleach that were once heralded as safe because they killed bacteria, microbes, and viruses are increasingly being viewed as hazardous due to the danger of ingesting, inhaling, and absorbing such products. These concerns are particularly heightened among individuals with young children or infants, pets, and those with allergies or sensitivities to a variety of substances.

Motivations for adopting sustainable household cleaners are often the result of individuals traveling down personal benefit or environmental adoption pathways. There is a strong health and wellness motivation for household cleaners as individuals consider the effects of products in, on and around the body. As such, individuals often view household cleaners as a way to proactively address personal safety or reactively combat allergic reactions and sensitivities. Eventually, this personal benefit-based health and wellness behavior may blossom into greater good-based sustainability consciousness as individuals become more aware of the environmental implications of such products. Consumers expect that household cleaners fulfill certain personal benefits and meet baseline criteria of quality.

Key insights on sustainability in relation to the household cleaner category include:

  • Chemical cleaners are seen as inherently taxing on the earth in their production, due to the fact that they are synthetically created, often using coal and petroleum. Conversely, sustainable household cleaners epitomize safety through their absence of noxious chemicals and the presence of recognizable benign ingredients.

  • Many consumers begin their adoption of sustainable household cleaners with “free and clear” versions of well-known conventional brands, which boast of having no dyes or perfumes. Eventually consumers may adopt natural cleaners that are plant...

In the News


Household Cleaners and Sustainability: A Market Update

New York, October 6, 2009 Market research firms Packaged Facts and The Hartman Group have joined forces to publish a series of reports tracking current consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors in relation to “sustainable” consumer packaged goods.

The third volume in the just-completed series, Consumers and Sustainability: Household Cleaners, reports that household cleaning products with a sustainable side have begun to enter the American mainstream.  Formerly, the act of cleaning was a form of “germ warfare,” and entailed a combative relationship between consumers and their environment.

Recently, however, more and more consumers talk about the idea of working with nature, not against it, to naturally restore balance to their home environment. As with the food and beverage and personal care categories, consumers have become increasingly aware of the potentially harmful effects of artificial and chemical-based products on personal health as well as environmental safety.

According to Consumers and Sustainability: Household Cleaners, sustainability means different things to different people. Asked to identify what the term means to them, consumers most frequently respond “the ability to last over time” and “the ability to support oneself.” Sustainability is also strongly associated with environmental concerns, whereby consumers are being challenged to develop and express an “eco-consciousness” in their daily habits and purchases.  But using “eco-conscious” or “green” as synonymous with sustainability unduly limits the frame of reference; these older terms fail to acknowledge the variety of social, economic and environmental issues that real-world individuals believe to be important to sustaining themselves, their communities, and society at large. 

Many consumers have, of course, modified their purchasing of higher-priced sustainable products in response to the current economic downturn.  Even so, tradeoffs and cutbacks are less likely for product categories that sustainability consumers view as important to their quality of life, including household cleaners.  “Purchasing rates for natural or organic household cleaners remain robust,” indicates Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts, “with 38% of respondents to a Packaged Facts survey indicating that they use these products.” 

The Consumers and Sustainability series draws on an online survey of 1,856 U.S. adult consumers conducted in September 2008 by The Hartman Group, as well as qualitative research on sustainability in three markets (Seattle, Dallas, and Columbus) during August 2008.  Packaged Facts provides a market update based on a Packaged Facts February 2009 online consumer poll and Experian Simmons national consumer surveys fielded November 2008 through June 2009.  In addition to Household Cleaners, the consumer markets covered by the Consumers and Sustainability series are Food and Beverage, Personal Care, and OTC Medications and Supplements.

About Packaged Facts - Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, publishes market intelligence on a wide range of consumer market topics, including consumer goods and retailing, foods and beverages, demographics, pet products and services, and financial products.  Packaged Facts also offers a full range of custom research services. 

About The Hartman Group

- The Hartman Group, located in Bellevue, Washington, blends leading-edge customized research and consulting to understand the subtle complexities of consumer behavior. Since 1989, Hartman Group has been listening loudly to the underlying motivations and behaviors that move the needle for our clients.

  • Methodology
    • A Joint Publication of The Hartman Group and Packaged Facts
    • The Hartman Group Quantitative and Qualitative Methods
    • About The Hartman Group, Inc.
    • About Packaged Facts
  • Sustainability & the American Consumer
    • Establishing a Definition of Sustainability
    • Sustainability Concerns and Purchasing Decisions
    • A Consumer-based Model of Responsibility
    • Experiential Triggers
    • Informational Triggers
    • The World of Sustainability: Core to Periphery
    • Motivations and Barriers to Purchase
      • Convenience
      • Price
      • Expert Opinion
      • Experience
      • Knowledge
        • Table Motivations and Barriers for Sustainable Purchases
  • Household Cleaners and the Sustainability Consumer
    • The Household Cleaners Market and the Zones of Sustainability
    • Personal Benefit Zone of Sustainability
    • Environmental Zone of Sustainability
      • Safety
      • Sensory Experience
      • Homemade Cleaners
    • Social Zone of Sustainability
      • Humane Treatment of Animals
    • Motivations and Pathway(s) for Adoption
    • Attributes of Sustainable Household Cleaners
      • Natural Is the Foremost Attribute of Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Relevant Household Cleaner Certifications
      • Cruelty Free
    • Packaging for Household Cleaners
      • Table Packaging Do's and Don'ts for Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Purchase Criteria
      • Table Purchase Criteria for Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Quantitative Findings on Sustainable Household Cleaners
      • Table General Household Cleaner Categories and Corresponding Sustainable Versions General Product Category Corresponding Sustainable Product Categories
  • Summary and Key Insights
    • Paradigm Shift for Household Cleaners
    • Tenets for Package Communications
  • Market Update
    • Responses to Economic Downturn
    • Sustainability Convictions Largely Unchanged by Recession
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Opinions
      • Table Recent Trends in Sustainability Psychographics: Behaviors
    • Widespread Acceptance of Sustainable Household Cleaners
    • Sustainable Products Move Into Mainstream
      • Table Percent of Adults Agreeing With Selected Psychographic Statements About the Environment, 2009 (U.S. adults)

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