Survey: More than half of shoppers prepared to boycott greenwashing companies

Conducted by KPMG, the survey polled 2,067 people and provides useful insights into shopper perceptions of greenwashing.

When the respondents were asked to define greenwashing, three-quarters said they would use the term to describe an organisation making false, exaggerated or unclear claims about the environmental sustainability of specific products or services.

A similar proportion would call ‘unsubstantiated’ environmental claims greenwashing.

Additionally, six in ten said they’d class a business as a greenwasher if some of its actions and policies contradicted each other. For example, a bank with a climate target that didn’t apply to the majority of its financed emissions would fall into this category, as would a business with less ambitious targets in one market than in another.

A significant minority (39%) would suspect a brand of greenwashing if it had not publicly disclosed a set target on an environmental topic they deemed material.

The survey found that almost one-fifth (18%) of consumers have stopped using a particular brand after it was accused of greenwashing. These include brands that have been the subject of campaigns by NGOs and activists, as well as brands that have been rapped by regulators or in court.

The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency has banned campaigns from several businesses in recent times, including energy firms Shell, Petronas and Repsol; multinational bank HSBC; airline Lufthansa and Anglian Water.

KPMG found that the proportion of consumers voting with their feet due to greenwashing accusations is likely to grow going forward. 54% of those polled said they were prepared to stop shopping with a company accused of greenwashing in the future.

Additionally, almost four in ten said they would change their investment approach if they found that a project or business they were investing in was greenwashing.

“Companies keen to capitalise on the growing interest in sustainable products should be taking a measured approach; overselling sustainability credentials risks losing customers as well as the reputational damage that will follow,” said KPMG UK’s head of ESG Richard Andrews.

Andrews said that companies may “unintentionally” be greenwashing by failing to collect, understand and communicate quality data relating to the environmental impact of their products and/or services.

Eco-label confusion

The research uncovered a growing distrust in corporate sustainability claims as they become more commonplace; one-third of respondents said they were sceptical of most claims.

Consumers were found to be the most wary of claims from the energy, fashion, transport and grocery sectors.

Additionally, more than one-quarter (28%) said they struggle to understand which products or services are truly the more sustainable choice, due to inconsistent labelling and the proliferation of eco-labels from different schemes.

Policymakers in the EU have responded to concerns around this confusion by approving a new directive that will temporarily halt the launch of any additional eco-labels and kick-start a review of existing schemes.

Related news: Marketers asked to work on sustainability projects without training, feeding into greenwashing risk

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie