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Study: Green on upswing despite down economy

PHILADELPHIA Consumer desire for green products and services is going strong despite the economic crisis, and restaurants with an eco-friendly focus may even hold a competitive advantage over those that do not, a recent study found.

In an online poll of 2,014 adults conducted late last month by Harris Interactive, 73 percent of respondents said they still buy "green." Of those, only 8 percent said they've reduced their green purchases because of the down-trending economy, while 26 percent reported that they are buying more green products and services. The remainder of respondents said they are buying about the same amount as before.

The poll also found that restaurants that operate in an eco-friendly manner may win more consumer traffic. The study offered participants a scenario of two restaurants identical in food, service and price, but Restaurant A had a green focus while Restaurant B did not. Seventeen percent of respondents said they would choose eco-friendly Restaurant A even if the wait time was longer than it was at Restaurant B. An additional 21 percent said they would visit "green" Restaurant A if the wait times were the same.

When it comes to pricing, the Harris poll found that 60 percent of respondents expected to pay the same amount at either restaurant, while 10 percent said they expected to pay less at the eco-friendly establishment. However, of those expecting to pay more, 13 percent said they would pay 5 percent more and 11 percent said they would pay 10 percent more.

The Harris survey was sponsored by SCA Tissue North America, a manufacturer of paper products.

Despite the challenges posed by the economic downturn, a variety of restaurants are forging ahead with their green initiatives.

One such operator is Ted's Montana Grill, a 55-unit casual-dining chain that has become a leader in the green movement. Ted's co-founder George McKerrow Jr. spoke recently with Nation's Restaurant News about the chain's eco-friendly activities, including the installation of water-free urinals and tankless water heaters in certain units. In addition, he and his co-founder, media mogul Ted Turner, also have been touring the country, encouraging other operators to go green.

"The restaurant industry is relatively fragmented, so we have to continually have conversations internally and externally so everyone will be open to things that ultimately will cause change to happen," he said. "Lots of small actions cause big reactions."

Alberto Gonzalez, the owner-operator of GustOrganics in New York City, which is the nation's first government-certified orgnic restaurant, said earlier this year that his business is going strong, thanks to a loyal customer base that believe in what he sells.

"People are starting to care more about where they spend their money and why," he said. "I believe everyone is going to follow; you're going to see a huge change in business models."

Contact Elissa Elan at [email protected].

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