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What consumers want from green claims

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"It doesn't make sense - 'the first to go carbon neutral across its business operations'. What exactly is that?"

Two thirds of consumers in the UK tell us that they find it difficult to know which products are better for the environment and more than half of consumers (58 per cent) think a lot of companies pretend to be green just to charge higher prices (Consumer Focus, 2009). Advertisers still have a long way to go in helping consumers feel confident about making green choices.

Companies are increasingly marketing the environmental credentials of their products to win the hearts of consumers keen to do their bit to save the planet. Withouth confidence in the truth of advertising, consumers could become reluctant to exercise their green purchasing power, as they no longer know who or what to believe. This can put the whole market for the 'green pound' in danger. Getting this right is clearly in businesses' self-interest.

Research by Consumer Focus ( shows that, in order for consumers to have confidence and trust in green claims, companies need to follow the 3Cs:

Clarity - consumers are looking for, as a minimum, claims that are clear and easy to understand. there is demand for information on green issues that is direct and ‘to the point’. Ambiguous and overly technical terms are not widely understood or liked by consumers.

Credibility - consumers want realistic, accessible and verifable claims. They deploy a series of ‘perceptual flters’ to make rapid judgements, based on intuitive and in-built rules of thumb. They can be grouped into four categories:

  • Ad specifc elements: there is a widespread dislike of small text, asterisks and footnotes (all of which are considered to represent ‘the catch’), whereas third-party endorsements from well known and respected organisations are highly valued by consumers
  • Perceptions of brand & brand 'fit' with the environment: Consumers are more likely to accept and believe claims that 'made sense' (i.e. a brand with which they have positive associations and/or believe is consistent with environmental responsibility) but were more suspicious of other brands. This 'brand baggage' affected their assessment of specific green claims
  • Ingrained habits and beliefs: Consumers draw upon their own experiences of green products to judge the credibility of a claim and – where they have no experience – expectations of performance are used as a proxy
  • The wider market and social context: Consumers have varying levels of confdence in how strictly green claims are regulated and this impacts on how credible they perceive claims to be

Comparability - these emerge as one of consumers’ most important demands. Consumers want simple, meaningful and like-for-like comparisons. The absence of meaningful comparisons, the general proliferation of labelling schemes and comparisons that are not well understood (eg, grams of Co2/km on car ads) offer little or even undermine the relevance and usefulness of a green claim. In addition, as the number of products and claims expands, the sheer amount of information may drown out the ability of consumers to make like-for-like comparisons and ceases to provide them with any useful means of differentiation.

Alongside these issues, it is key for companies to consider that sometimes it may not always be best to emphasise the greenness of a product above all else. The Consumer Focus research shows that the key factors of cost and performance also emerged strongly. While not a prompted topic in the research, these were given as two of the main reasons that consumers weren’t buying more green products. It is imperative that products and services for which green claims are made achieve improved environmental standards as well as delivering on cost and performance. Misjudging the balance and overemphasising the former at the expense of the latter can mean that consumers can fail to respond to companies’ efforts.

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