Americans confused by green marketing

Many Americans misunderstand key phrases used in environmental marketing and advertising and believe products are more environmentally friendly than they really are, a survey has found.

The Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship’s 2008 Green Gap Survey found almost half of those surveyed thought products marketed as green or environmentally friendly had a positive impact on the environment.

Only 22% understood that the terms are used to describe products with less negative environmental impact than similar products.

With just days until a US Federal Trade Commission is to hold a workshop to review guidance on green marketing, the survey also revealed 59% of Americans support government regulation of such messages.

Other bodies can also play an important role to ensure accurate marketing, according to those questioned, including third-party organisations, the media, and industry groups.

“The fact that Americans are so primed to trust companies may suggest the lack of control they feel around complex environmental issues,” said Bradley Googins, executive director of the Boston College Centre for Corporate Citizenship.

“So it is not surprising that they also seek a third-party gatekeeper to help ensure the messages they see and hear are accurate.

“The motto really could be ‘trust, but verify’. Maintaining the trust of consumers needs to be a top priority for companies.”

The survey found 47% of people said they trust companies to tell them the truth in environmental messages.

A similar percentage also believe companies are accurately communicating information about their impact on the environment.

Four in ten of those questioned said they choose to buy products they believe are environmentally friendly over the standard alternative.

Almost three quarters say that providing a clear connection between the product or service and the environmental issue – such as a hybrid car and lower emissions – influences their purchasing decisions.

Kate Martin

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