“Green” claims confuse consumers

A survey conducted by Cone, a brand strategy and marketing firm, indicates that most consumers continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising, giving products more credit than they deserve. At the same time, most Americans are willing to punish a company if they think they were deliberately misled by “greenwashing” claims.

The annual Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker found that 97% of Americans believe they know what common environmental marketing claims such as "green" or "environmentally friendly" mean. Yet their interpretations are often inaccurate, according to the researchers. More than two-in-five Americans (41%) erroneously believe these terms mean a product has a positive (i.e., beneficial) impact on the environment. Only 29% understand that these terms more accurately describe products with less environmental impact than previous versions or competing products.

But consumers also expressed a desire to learn more. Almost 60% said it is only acceptable for marketers to use general environmental claims when they are backed up with additional detail and explanation. Another 23% said vague environmental claims should never be used. And 79% want detailed information readily accessible on product packaging.

Of those surveyed, 71% said they will stop buying the product if they feel misled by an environmental claim, and more than a third (37%) will go so far as to boycott the company's products entirely.