It's Confusing Being Green

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It’s not easy being green, particularly when the information about getting the most benefit of environmentally friendly products is hard to find and confusing. 

According to new data from Cone Communications, nearly three-quarters of consumers (71%) said they consider the environment when shopping, up from two-thirds (66%) five years ago. Indeed, nearly half of all consumers (45%) actively seek out environmental impact information of the products they’re buying. 

At the same time, however, many of these consumers are still unclear about their role in achieving the full environmental benefit of certain products. Although 90% of consumers say they feel it’s their responsibility to properly use and dispose of these products, only 30% say they often use products in a way that achieves the intended environmental benefit, and only 42% say they dispose of products in a manner for full environmental benefit. 

“When a consumer is motivated to buy an environmentally friendly product, part of the [understanding] is that the consumer needs to do their part,” Liz Gorman, senior vice president of sustainable business practices at Cone, tells Marketing Daily.

The problems aren’t coming from a lack of consumer interest. The majority of Americans says they regularly read and follow instructions about how to use a product (71%) or dispose of it (66%). More than 40% of consumers said they conduct additional research to get more information about the proper use and disposal of products. 

“We’re picking up on the confusion and use of certain products,” Gorman says. For instance, consumers who buy a compostable product -- but don’t have ready access to composting programs and bins -- are uncertain about what to do to achieve the biggest benefit. “If they don’t have compost that is curbside, what do they do with it? If it goes to the landfill, it’s not going to biodegrade.” 

But there is a thirst for more information. Forty-one percent of consumers said they conduct additional research about the proper use and disposal of products for the greatest benefit, and 85% of consumers want companies to educate them about best use and disposal practices. For those who weren’t using or disposing products for optimal benefit, 20% said they simply didn’t know how to do so. (When looking for information, 45% said they are most likely to use on-pack resources, while only 26% were most likely to look online.)

Meanwhile, consumers are also confused about the marketing terms used to promote environmental friendliness. Only about a fifth of consumers (22%) were able to correctly identify that products marketed as “green” or “environmentally friendly” had a lighter impact on the environment than similar products. Many more (40%) felt the terms meant the product had a positive impact on the environment. Not surprisingly, nearly three-quarters (71%) said they wished companies would be better at helping understand these environmental terms. 

“For marketers, it’s about getting smarter, rather than just advertising,” Gorman says. “People are buying [a product] because it's greener, but then saying, ‘I don’t know what to do with it'."

Consumers are also more likely to be forgiving of a marketer that is honest about environmental claims. Nearly 70% percent of consumers said it was okay if a company was not environmentally perfect, as long as it was honest, while 78% of consumers said they would boycott a product if they discovered environmental claims to be misleading.

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