The Market Potential for the Household EcoTeam Program

Prepared by
Market Street Research, Inc.
Northampton, MA 01060
March 1996

Executive Summary

The purpose of this study was to assess the market potential and program and marketing effectiveness of Global Action Plan’s Household EcoTeam Program which has been developed as a means of encouraging households to form earth-friendly lifestyle practices. People are invited by neighbors to attend gatherings in neighbors’ homes known as "Introduction Events," in which they learn about the EcoTeam Program and are invited to form a team with other participants. The team meets over a period of several months and participants then go out and recruit other neighbors, who in turn attend Introduction Events and form new EcoTeams. GAP’s goal is to expand the EcoTeam Program to a point of sufficient concentration and visibility so that it achieves "critical mass" and will diffuse throughout the population as households continue to form new EcoTeams.

In recent years, a considerable number of national marketing research studies have demonstrated that the majority of adults in the United States hold positive attitudes toward the environment and are predisposed toward making positive changes in lifestyle practices that will help protect the environment. Not surprisingly given this research, GAP has had considerable success with the Household EcoTeam Program, with over 3,000 households participating during the program’s pilot stages. GAP now needs to determine the potential for widespread diffusion of the program beyond the neighborhoods currently served by the program. The objectives of this study, thus, were to:

  1. 1. estimate the likely market potential for the EcoTeam program;
  2. 2. evaluate the EcoTeam program and explore the program’s long-term effects on participants’ lifestyle practices;
  3. 3. evaluate Introduction Events and GAP’s training and support mechanisms for the EcoTeam program.

For this study, Market Street Research, Inc. began by surveying a random sample of households in four urban regions of the U.S., including: (1) Chattanooga, Tennessee; (2) Portland, Oregon; (3) Seattle, Washington; and (4) Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota. These large geographic regions were selected because GAP already has experience in forming EcoTeams in these areas and they are viewed as "early adopter" communities (i.e., residents tend to have positive attitudes toward new ideas). GAP plans to expand into other U.S. markets over time, but at this point in the program’s development, it made sense to begin with a targeted marketing strategy in geographic areas likely to adopt the program most readily. We also discovered during the survey that despite their early adopter status, these regions are fairly representative of the U.S. as a whole in terms of attitudes toward the environment and toward developing sustainable lifestyle practices.

The second and third phases of the study involved in-depth telephone interviews with 40 people who had participated in the EcoTeam program to varying degrees, ranging from potential Introduction Event recruits to program graduates.

Summary of Findings Relating to Market Potential

The results of this study clearly indicate that the Household EcoTeam Program has the potential for widespread acceptance among households within the geographic markets surveyed, and likely nationwide. When given a representative "script" describing the program, most people we interviewed expressed an interest in the program and very few thought they would be unlikely to come to an Introduction Event. In fact, 43% thought they would be "very likely" to come, another 42% thought they would be "somewhat likely" to do so, and only 13% thought they would not. Large proportions responded positively to various components of the script such as children’s involvement, opportunities to get to know neighbors, and opportunities to take environmentally responsible action and thus simplify one’s life.

These results suggest that GAP’s goal of reaching about 15% of households in order to promote diffusion of the EcoTeam program throughout the larger community is realistic. With most new programs, however, the proportion of people who say they will participate is smaller than the proportion who actually do so. We used a standard marketing rule-of-thumb and factored in the margin of error for the survey results to arrive at conservative scenarios for Introduction Events, which are as follows:

  1. 1. WORST CASE ESTIMATE: approximately 4% to 24% of households can be expected to come to an Introduction Event when invited by a neighbor.
  2. 2. LIKELY ESTIMATE: approximately 33% to 53% of households will come to an Introduction Event when invited by a neighbor.

The market potential for the EcoTeam program is probably closest to our "likely estimate" for several reasons. First, according to statistics compiled by GAP, EcoTeam participants currently recruit about 55% of the households they approach; that is, slightly more than half of the people who have been asked to participate in Introduction Events have actually done so. Second, our interviews were conducted by telephone, by strangers, rather than in-person, by neighbors, as with the EcoTeam program. GAP’s experiences in the field strongly suggest that people are less willing to consider coming to an Introduction Event when asked by telephone than in-person. Finally, only a small proportion (13%) of the survey respondents refused to consider the possibility of coming to an Introduction Event; most people, in fact, responded positively, although not all fell within the "very likely" category.

Summary of Findings Relating to EcoTeam Program

GAP’s records indicate that 75% of the people who attend Introduction Events end up joining EcoTeams. Most of the EcoTeam participants we interviewed are very satisfied with the program. Participants felt they gained the knowledge they needed to make real changes in their household practices, they felt affirmed for work they had already done toward developing sustainable lifestyles, and they enjoyed making new friends and getting to know their neighbors. Many liked being on a team and working together toward common goals. Those who completed the program six months ago or longer have maintained the gains they made during the program, and continue to show improvements in terms of waste reduction, consumption practices, and use of water, energy, and transportation.

Summary of Findings Regarding Introduction Events

Most people who agree to come to Introduction Events do so because they know the person who recruits them and/or the program sounds appealing to them. The main motivations for coming include:

  1. 1. being approached by a friend or someone familiar who is from the immediate neighborhood (i.e., not by a "stranger");
  2. 2. being approached by someone who is enthusiastic, highly focused, knows about the program from first-hand experience, and can give specific examples of how the program works; and
  3. 3. being approached at the right time, when one has a desire to become more environmentally responsible but has not yet had the right opportunity to pursue this interest.

When people decide not to come to an Introduction Event, it is usually because they do not have enough time, they cannot meet at the designated time, or they have other life commitments that preclude participation in the program. A few people dislike meetings and/or dislike working in groups, and some think that they already do enough for the environment and do not need to participate in an EcoTeam to make positive changes. There were few concerns about the Introduction Event and/or the EcoTeam program that limit people’s willingness to participate; the two main issues that seem to cause hesitation are: (1) people’s perceptions that the program will take too much time, and (2) people’s perceptions that the fee for participation in the program is unaffordable. GAP has addressed both of these issues, by shortening the program somewhat and by offering a scholarship alternative, and at present, 85% of people who come to an Introduction Event end up joining an EcoTeam.

Effective recruiters feel confident in their ability to recruit neighbors, and they share a number of common characteristics:

  1. 1. they approach as many neighbors as possible, knowing before they begin that some people, including close friends, may reject the idea of coming to the Introduction Event;
  2. 2. they approach neighbors one-on-one and do not rely on less personal tactics such as mailings, leaving messages on answering machines, or trying to recruit people in groups (e.g., at church or civic-related meetings, at school, at work, etc.);
  3. 3. they develop effective strategies for handling rejection and they do not allow rejection to cause inertia;
  4. 4. they strongly believe that they will be successful at getting neighbors to come to Introduction Events and are not shy about expressing their enthusiasm in this respect;
  5. 5. they enthusiastically support the EcoTeam program, believe in the program’s philosophy and structure, and effectively communicate their positive experiences in the program;
  6. 6. they are able to draw on prior experiences in recruiting people; for example, many have recruited co-workers for work-related projects, recruited neighbors and friends for children’s events or school activities, recruited people for church or civic groups, or worked on political campaigns or environmental, peace/justice, or feminist causes. These experiences help give recruiters a sense of confidence in their ability to recruit successfully;
  7. 7. they develop a sense of when to strongly encourage or "push" neighbors into coming to the Introduction Event and when not to do so. Trying too hard to make people believe environmental issues are important and/or trying too hard to get people to come to the Introduction Event are common problems experienced by less effective recruiters;
  8. 8. they find ways to make social connections with neighbors explicit; for example, by emphasizing that they live on the same street, visit the same supermarket, laundromat, or church, have children that attend the same school, or are acquainted through friends;
  9. 9. they work with a neighbor or friend as a "buddy" during the recruitment process. Having a buddy helps reduce the stress of approaching strangers and allows people to build on each other’s strengths; and
  10. 10. they follow-up on meetings with neighbors; for example, by calling to remind people and confirm that they will be coming to the Introduction Event, and by making sure all the logistics are in order.

Having a script works well for people and is an effective tool for helping less confident recruiters to approach neighbors. Some of the fears people have about recruiting for the EcoTeam program stem from the fear that neighbors will refuse to come. The survey results suggest that this is unlikely--most neighbors are likely to respond positively to neighbors’ approaching them about Introduction Events. Not all will come immediately, but most will consider the possibility either now or at a more convenient time in the future.

In summary, the results of this study suggest that GAP’s methods of recruiting people to participate in the Household EcoTeam Program are conceptually sound and work well from a marketing perspective. As the program expands, GAP should continue to track the successes and challenges of the EcoTeam Program and to support recruiters so that they continue to feel confident in the program and have the skills and materials they need to hold successful Introduction Events.