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Green Advertising: Consumers Notice It, But Distrust It

  • The Find: Most consumers recall green advertising claims but many don't trust or understand them.
  • The Source: The "2008 Green Gap Survey," conducted by Cone LLC and The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship and a recent survey from Burst Media.
The Takeaway: When Burst Media surveyed more than 6,000 adult web users, 46 percent recalled seeing ads with environmental claims frequently, and 40 percent said they see them occasionally. Consumers remember the ads, but they don't necessarily trust them. One in five seldom or never believe green claims, while two thirds say they sometimes believe them.

Cone also found consumers leery of green advertising. Just under half of the 1,000 respondents surveyed said they trust companies to tell them the truth in environmental messaging. Though a majority (61 percent) think they understand the terms in green advertising, Cone found that only 22 percent actually understood that 'green' usually means 'less harmful than before' rather than 'positively good for the earth.'

Mike Lawrence, executive vice president of corporate responsibility at Cone, notes that this gap between expectations and reality can lead to problems. "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.'"

So how do you capture the attention of the large swath of America interested in green products without risking their anger? Of course, be precise and truthful, but Cone also suggests companies become a resource for consumers. One answer: a website that provides additional information on green issues. 80 percent of consumers also believe third party certifications keep companies honest, so consider looking into these organizations.