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IBM CEO survey uncovers info-hungry 'green' customers

Consumers are demanding more from businesses, showing a growing interest in corporate social responsibility and "green" products.

In a sign of "green" going mainstream, an IBM survey of CEOs finds that socially oriented customers are wielding more power, aided by social networking on the Web.

The survey, published Tuesday, drew on face-to-face interviews with 1,130 CEOs around the world. It found that CEOs feel less prepared as they would like to deal with the pace of change.

CEOs identified two types of customers that are the primary sources of that change.

The first is the information omnivore, the type of consumer who is comfortable making his or her opinion known through Web-based tools like social networks.

CEOs said that these proactive consumers, or "prosumers," can be a positive influence if companies can design products based on consumers' expressed preferences.

In addition to being demanding about products, customers are carefully watching corporations' behavior, the study found.

Expectations for corporate social responsibility are rising. Concern over environmental issues has doubled over the past four years, with most of that reflected in Europe and in the Asia-Pacific region.

CEOs said they will increase investments 25 percent over the next three years to better understand socially minded customers, which chief executives identified as the fastest-growing trend.

IBM itself primarily serves large enterprises, rather than selling directly to consumers. It does an annual survey of CEOs to find direction on their business directions and how they intend to sell to their customers.

In the area of clean tech, IBM has a number of initiatives including data center energy efficiency and reducing waste from silicon solar cells. IBM also has a decades-long corporate social responsibility practice.