Consumers Confused by ‘Green' Marketing

Americans continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising, giving products a greater halo than they may deserve. At the same time, most Americans are willing to punish a company for using misleading claims. Of the 71 percent who will stop buying the product if they feel misled by an environmental claim, more than one-third (37 percent) will go so far as to boycott the company’s products entirely, according to the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker, by Cone LLC.


A growing number of Americans, 97 percent in 2011, as compared to 90 percent in 2008, believe they know what common environmental marketing claims such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” mean, yet their interpretations are often inaccurate. More than two in five Americans, (41 percent) erroneously believe these terms mean a product has a positive, i.e., beneficial, impact on the environment. Only 29 percent understand that these terms more accurately describe products with less environmental impact than previous versions or competing products.

“It’s telling that three years after Cone first conducted the Green Gap survey, not much has changed,” said Jonathan Yohannan, Cone’s senior vice president of corporate responsibility.

“Consumers continue to be confused about environmental claims, often without realizing it. This creates a huge risk for consumer backlash.”


A majority of consumers are distrustful of companies’ environmental claims (57 percent) and are overwhelmed by the amount of environmental messages in the marketplace (51 percent). Given this confusion, it’s understandable that consumers are somewhat wary of general claims alone:

• Fifty-nine percent say it is only acceptable for marketers to use general environmental claims when they are backed up with additional detail and explanation.

• Twenty-three percent say vague environmental claims should never be used.

• Seventy-nine percent want detailed information readily accessible on product packaging.

• Seventy-five percent wish companies would do a better job helping them understand the environmental terms they use.

Consumers are clearly seeking information, but they do not expect companies to be saints - 75 percent say it is OK if a company is not environmentally perfect - as long as it is honest and transparent about its efforts.

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Publication date: 05/02/2011

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