The data reveal many consumers misinterpret common phrases used in environmental marketing – thinking terms such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” indicate a positive impact on the environment (41%) – giving products a greater halo than they may deserve. Despite their misinterpretations, consumers don’t take environmental claims lightly. Most say they will punish a company by boycotting a product (71%) or even a company’s entire suite of products (37%) if they find an environmental claim to be misleading.
A recent controversy at risk of consumer backlash is the case of S.C. Johnson’s “Greenlist” label on its Windex and Shout products. A civil lawsuit raised questions about consumer deception, saying the Greenlist label implied third-party verification, when in reality it is a self-imposed label and rating system. Although the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker found that a majority of consumers (51%) interpret an environmental “certification” on-pack to mean it has been verified by a credible third party, the Greenlist case proves this is not always an accurate assumption.
There is hope for marketers taking an authentic look at their companies’ environmental impacts – a majority of consumers (75%) say a company does not need to be environmentally perfect, as long as it is honest and transparent about its efforts. But consumers do want companies to help them better understand the environmental terms they use (75%), even by providing detailed information on-pack so they can make informed shopping decisions at the point of purchase (79%).
Americans today are interested in environmentally responsible products, yet they clearly need more information to make the right decisions. Generic claims will no longer cut it among discerning consumers; therefore, corporate claims must be accurate and properly aligned with consumer perceptions. Companies must be transparent to garner trust or risk facing the consequences.
The full 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker is free to download on the Cone website.