Survey Suggests Brands Risk Greenwashing Backlash

A mere 7 percent of citizens polled in the UK say that they believe what companies are communicating in regards to climate change responsibilities and actions to reduce their environmental impacts.

As a result, businesses risk facing a costly backlash due to consumer mistrust, according to new research commissioned by the Carbon Trust.

The research revealed that 90 percent of the public want firms to commit to the average 3 percent per year emissions cut required for the UK to meet 2050 climate change targets. Consumers cite the threat of climate change, which polled as the greatest issue facing the environment, as the root of the heightened public expectation for firms to prove their commitment.

70 percent of people want businesses to mandatorily disclose their carbon emissions.

56 percent are more concerned about business’ actions to reduce their impacts on climate change than they were five years ago.

“This new research builds on our own global analysis and shows that the public are in a very uncomfortable place regarding climate change, they understand the significance of the issue; they recognize that businesses’ are a major emitter of emissions, but most are unclear as to the full extent--and what real action looks like,” said Peter Walshe, Global Director of brand analysis firm BrandZ, which conducted the survey.

The research shows that the majority of consumers (60 percent) need third party evidence of action from a respected climate change body before believing corporate claims. The first place the public search for evidence of corporate climate change claims is not company websites, but search engines, which provide a range of sources.

66 percent question whether companies are genuinely cutting carbon emissions

The greatest concern around company claims is that firms simply make one-off improvements to win publicity, and then just return to business as usual (53 percent).

Harry Morrison, General Manager for the Carbon Trust Standard, said:

“It’s clear that ‘green washing’; over claiming; and excessive jargon has created mistrust of brands. The good news is that by taking voluntary action now to measure, manage and reduce their impacts, there are huge opportunities for brands to stand out from the crowd.”

For those companies able to provide credible evidence of improving their environmental impact, there are considerable commercial and reputational opportunities:

- 56 percent are more loyal to brands that can show, at a glance, evidence of action.

- 53 percent want to work for companies that can clearly demonstrate commitment to reducing their impacts.

According to BrandZ’s global analysis, there is a distinct correlation between the strongest, most successful performers in its annual ‘Top 100 Most Powerful Brands’ and those brands that score highly on the categories of Corporate Reputation, Leadership and Innovation. Environmental responsibility is one of the top characteristics of leading companies.

BrandZ’s analysis over the last six years finds that, on average, 80 percent of sales are generated by the product brand itself, whereas 20 percent of sales are directly linked to corporate reputation. In breaking the Corporate Reputation category down further, BrandZ found that, at least 2 percent of sales are attributable directly to environmental reputation.

Peter Walshe added: “Without even taking into account the role that environmental responsibility has in demonstrating leadership; fairness; and trust--our own research shows that taking action on climate change represents a 2 percent sales increase or decrease for businesses to play for. Right now, this is an opportunity. But as awareness rises of the considerable role of business emissions in climate change, I expect an imminent backlash against companies that do not perform or cannot prove their actions are measurable and authentic.”

Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil/flickr/Creative Commons

Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Life Media