Suspicious Minds: America's Distrust Of Sustainability Claims Increasing

When it comes to sustainability, America is sliding deeper into skepticism, according to the latest research from GfK. Compared to other countries, U.S. consumers are less likely to trust the government, news, social media, and online reviews in nine key product categories. And older people are far more cynical than younger shoppers.

The only thing they do trust? Product labels, with 72% saying they wish labels included more information on carbon emissions.

“Americans have generally held a healthy degree of skepticism when it comes to advertising claims and, in particular, claims about environmental protection,” says Tim Kenyon, vice president of GfK Consumer Life and director of the Green Gauge research program.

“I believe we are at a higher point right now, especially in the U.S.," he says in an email to Marketing Daily.



For instance, 83% of Americans agree that “many companies say they do good things for the environment because it is good for their public image, not because they care.”

Kenyon adds that fatigue and consumer confusion is growing. “This exacerbates the strong perceptions of greenwashing among the American consumer.”

Take prepackaged food. About 31% of global consumers say social media sites are trustworthy when understanding the environmental impact of these products, versus just 16% of Americans. Similar gaps emerge for news programming and local or national governments.

And Americans are more than twice as likely (15% versus 6%) to say that none of the sources are trustworthy. Only when it came to product labels were Americans more likely to trust an information source about prepackaged foods.

Labels are different, and 72% of Americans say they are “interested in buying products with labels with information about their carbon footprint/ emissions.”

Those in the baby boomer and older demographic are the least inclined to trust any source.

In contrast, millennials and Gen Z are more trusting than the global average in social media.

Interestingly, Gen Z is well below average in its trust of company websites and labels, as if considering any “official” source of information as automatically suspect.

Brands need to think about who their audience is before responding. Kenyon says one segment of its study, which it refers to as “Jaded,” is typically so disengaged that perceptions of greenwashing “simply confirm their skepticism, which will lead to further inaction.”

Conversely, sustainability-conscious consumers are motivated to do more homework to verify the information. They are also more likely to call brands out for misdeeds.

“These consumers are seeking out brands and companies they see as environmentally authentic and ethical,” he says.

Finally, he says brands should remember to keep sustainability messaging practical. “The No. 1 reason people are attracted to electric vehicles is the money saved on gas, he says. “Connecting sustainability to real-world, positive implications for consumers is crucial.”

The findings are from GfK’s latest Green Gauge, tracking people in ten countries.

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