Environmental Marketing

Following are the results of the 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker, as reported in a March 24 press release from the company.

Americans continue to misunderstand phrases commonly used in environmental marketing and advertising, giving products a greater halo than they may deserve. At the same time, most Americans are willing to punish a company for using misleading claims.

Of the 71 percent who will stop buying the product if they feel misled by an environmental claim, more than a third (37%) will go so far as to boycott the company’s products entirely, according to the survey.




A growing number of Americans (97% in 2011 as compared to 90% in 2008) believe they know what common environmental marketing claims such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” mean, yet their interpretations are often inaccurate. More than two-in-five Americans (41%) erroneously believe these terms mean a product has a positive (i.e., beneficial) impact on the environment. Only 29 percent understand that these terms more accurately describe products with less environmental impact than previous versions or competing products.


“It’s telling that three years after Cone first conducted the Green Gap survey, not much has changed,” says Jonathon Yohannan, Cone’s senior vice president of corporate sustainability. “Consumers continue to be confused about environmental claims, often without realizing it. This creates a huge risk for consumer backlash.”





A majority of consumers are distrustful of companies’ environmental claims (57%) and are overwhelmed by the amount of environmental messages in the marketplace (51%). Given this confusion, it’s understandable that consumers are somewhat wary of general claims alone:


  • 59% say it is only acceptable for marketers to use general environmental claims when they are backed up with additional detail and explanation.
  • 23% say vague environmental claims should never be used.
  • 79% want detailed information readily accessible on product packaging.
  • 75% wish companies would do a better job helping them understand the environmental terms they use.


Consumers are clearly seeking information, but fortunately, they do not expect companies to be saints. Three-quarters (75%) say it is okay if a company is not environmentally perfect–as long as it is honest and transparent about its efforts.




As corporate marketers and regulators alike evaluate how to communicate environmental commitments and avoid greenwashing, the Trend Tracker tested which of three common marketing approaches was most influential in purchase decisions. Consumers were asked to “purchase” the most environmentally responsible of three generic cleaning products based on an isolated marketing approach–a certification, a vague environmental claim or an environmental image.

  • Certification: By far the most influential purchase driver–51 percent–selected the product bearing a mock certification. What’s more telling is that more than half of respondents (51%) believed the certification meant this product was reviewed and verified by a credible third party.
  • Claim: Thirty percent of respondents chose the product with a vague “made with natural ingredients” claim.
  • Imagery: Environmental imagery was the least influential purchase driver, yet one-in-five (19%) still chose this product without any other indication it was better for the environment. Some even believed the environmental imagery indicated this product is safe for the environment (14%).


Testing the certification, claim or image on-pack indicated each drove consumer perceptions that the products themselves did not necessarily live up to. This disconnect is a significant threat for companies because consumers who feel misled by an environmental claim may punish the brand. They will:

  • Stop Buying: 71 percent will stop buying the product; 37 of these will boycott the company’s products altogether.
  • Do Nothing: Only 11 percent will continue buying the product.

“Companies must be transparent to build trust or face the consequences,” says Yohannan.



The 2011 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker presents the findings of a March 2011 online survey conducted by ORC International. Cone is a strategy and communications agency engaged in building brand trust. www.coneinc.com