Green-marketing gap grows

While consumers believe companies are truthful in their environmental messaging, misunderstandings could lead to backlashes, a new survey says.

Many Americans misunderstand key phrases commonly used in environmental advertising, leading them to overestimate the value of certain products.

That confusion could lead to a strong backlash, says the “Green Gap Survey,” conducted by Cone LLC and The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship.

Four in 10 people look for products they believe to be “environmentally friendly,” the survey says.

Nearly half believe that “green” denotes products with a positive effect on the environment, but fewer than a quarter understand that a green product claims only to have an impact that is less negative than similar products.

“The gap creates significant risk of embarrassment for companies and disillusionment for consumers,” Mike Lawrence, executive vice president of corporate responsibility at Cone, says in a statement.

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

While 47 percent of consumers say they trust companies to tell the truth in environmental messaging, 59 percent support government regulation of green marketing, the survey says.

These results come as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission prepares for a public hearing on uses of environmental-advertising claims April 30 in Washington D.C.

“The motto really could be ‘trust, but verify,'” Bradley Googins, executive director of The Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship, says in a statement. “Maintaining the trust of consumers needs to be a top priority for companies.”

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