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Americans Misunderstand ‘Green’ Marketing Message


Wednesday, 30th April 2008 at 1:33 pm
Staff Reporter
Americans misunderstand key phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising, giving products a greater environmental halo than they deserve and creating a growing risk of a company backlash according to a new study.

Wednesday, 30th April 2008
at 1:33 pm
Staff Reporter


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Americans Misunderstand ‘Green’ Marketing Message
Wednesday, 30th April 2008 at 1:33 pm

Americans misunderstand key phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising, giving products a greater environmental halo than they deserve and creating a growing risk of a company backlash according to a new study.

The findings are part of the 2008 Green Gap Survey, conducted by the Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship and Cone LLC.

According to the survey, almost four in 10 (39%) Americans are preferentially buying products they believe to be "environmentally friendly." At the same time, almost half (48%) of the population erroneously believes a product marketed as "green" or "environmentally friendly" has a positive (i.e., beneficial) impact on the environment.

Only 22 percent understand these terms more accurately describe products with less negative environmental impact than previous versions or competing products.

The survey shows that Americans do not realise that a green gap exists:
– 47 percent trust companies to tell them the truth in environmental messaging
– 45 percent believe companies are accurately communicating information about their impact on the environment
– 61 percent of Americans say they understand the environmental terms companies use in their advertising

Mike Lawrence, executive vice president of corporate responsibility, Cone LLC says the gap creates significant risk of embarrassment for companies and disillusionment for consumers.

He says activists are closely monitoring green claims and can quickly share information online about the actual environmental impact of a product. The result can be accusations that a company is engaging in ‘greenwashing’ and is misleading the public.

The study says people are listening to, interested in and positively affected by environmental messaging. Fully 38 percent say they feel informed by such messaging and another 11 percent feel empowered or inspired to act. Only 14 percent of the population says environmental messaging makes them either feel cynical or overwhelmed.

Cone LLC and The Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship believe the research suggests several strategies companies should use to effectively and credibly communicate about how their products or services impact the environment:

Be precise. Make specific claims that provide quantitative impacts.
70 percent of Americans say quantifying the actual environmental impact of a product or service is influential in their purchasing decisions. In addition, the more precise an environmental claim, the more convincing Americans believe it to be. For example, 36 percent found the message "environmentally friendly" credible when used to describe a paper product, but 60 percent found the message "made with 80% post-consumer recycled paper" credible.

Be relevant. Demonstrate a clear connection between the product or service and the environment.
74 percent of Americans say providing a clear connection between the product/service and the environmental issue (i.e., a hybrid car and lower emissions) influences their purchasing decisions.

Be a resource. Provide additional information for consumers in a place where they want it.
Americans say they are most likely to seek information online via a company’s Web site (54%), a third-party Web site (51%), a search engine (48%) or via product packaging (45%).

Be consistent. Don’t let marketing images send a signal that contradicts the carefully chosen words and facts you use. For example, showing an automobile parked in a virgin forest may be seen as insensitive, while a product growing out of a tree may be seen as exaggeration.

Be realistic. There are always more environmental improvements that can be made to a product or service, and they are but one piece of a much larger environmental journey for society. Communications that include some sense of context, as well as a "work in progress" tone, will be more credible and less subject to criticism.

About the survey:
The 2008 Green Gap Survey presents the findings of an online survey conducted February 21-22, 2008 by Opinion Research Corporation among 1,080 adults comprising 520 men and 560 women 18 years of age and older The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is +/- 3%.

Download a complete copy of the fact sheet (pdf; free registration and login required)



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