Prior to 1980, very few products in the U.S. were marketed with an environmentally friendly message.
The sole exception was organic, natural products in the food industry, which flourished. By the late 1980s and 1990s, the notion of “green” products became somewhat trendier, and the practice of marketing products as such became more commonplace in niche markets.
In fact, a number of academic papers written in the late 1980s described what was then a rapid increase in green consumerism. These papers also predicted a dramatic and inevitable shift toward green products (Peattie and Crane 2005).
A good example is the 1988 best-selling book, The Green Consumer Guide, by John Elkington and Julia Hailes, which emphasized making greener product and lifestyle choices, such as choosing greener food, cleaning and gardening products, and homemade green cleaning products (Meyer 2010).
Between 1989 and 1990, green product introductions in the U.S. more than doubled to 11.4 percent of all new household products and continued to grow to 13.4 percent in 1991 (Ottman 1993).
At the same time, the volume of green print ads grew by 430 percent and green television ads by 367 percent (Ottman, 1993, Peattie and Crane 2005, Meyer 2010). Several European multinational companies claimed to have changed their products and production systems in response to green concerns (Vandermerwe and Oliff 1990).
By the mid-1990s, market researchers found only a very slight increase in the number of green consumers since the start of the decade, and identified a significant gap between concern and actual purchasing (Mintel 1995, Wong et al 1996, Peattie 1999, Crane 2000, Peattie and Crane 2005).
With the booming economy and affordable energy in a seemingly endless supply, consumers were more interested in buying “bigger and better” than in spending extra money on green products (Meyer 2010).
It wasn’t until the start of the 21st century—when concerns over global warming and natural resource depletion began gaining momentum—that “green” went mainstream and began influencing the practices of product manufacturers.
Researchers focusing on building-related illnesses began to understand the health benefits of good IEQ. Subsequently, building rating systems, certification programs, and certain eco-labels started to make IEQ a priority.
Third-party product certification programs focusing specifically on “green” products also began surfacing in the marketplace, largely in response to concerns about product toxicity and children’s health.
As discussed in the AQS white paper, Primary Green Products Standards and Certification Programs: A Comparison, architectural and building contracting firms (nonresidential sector) acknowledged that, in order to remain competitive, they must shift toward green building, including the use of green building products to achieve energy efficiency, water conservation, and good IEQ (MHC 2008a, b, c).
According to The Seven Sins of Greenwashing™, a report on environmental claims released by TerraChoice Group, Inc., the total number of green products on the North American market increased by an average of 79 percent (a range between 40 percent and 176 percent) between 2007 and 2008. In a related study, the rate of green advertising was found to have almost tripled since 2006 (TerraChoice 2009).
The most recent version of that report, The Sins of Greenwashing: The Family and Home Edition, revealed that there are 73 percent more green products on the market in 2010 than in there were in 2009—from 2,739 products to 4,744.
Of the retail stores visited for the study, nine of them had increased their green product offerings by more than 200 percent in just one year. Only four had decreased their offerings (TerraChoice 2010).