Consumers suspect firms of greenwashStudy finds many are confused, or don't trust ads

30 June 2009

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Two thirds of consumers don't know how to tell whether claims made about green products are true, leading to widespread confusion and growing cynicism around some companies that claim to be green.

A new study by the government consumer body Consumer Focus shows that despite 54% of consumers buying more environmentally responsible products than two years ago, 64% find it difficult to know which products are better for the environment, and 58% believe some companies pretend to be green simply so that they can charge higher prices.

Only 20% of those surveyed by Consumer Focus believed companies were doing enough to promote environmentally friendly options for consumers.

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Green claims

As it launched its findings, Consumer Focus warned companies making green claims that they  must ensure these claims are clear and robust, or widespread confusion will tip into cynicism, putting the whole 'green pound' market in danger.

Lucy Yates, sustainability expert at Consumer Focus, said: 'Even now, when money is tighter than ever, people still want to buy products that are better for the environment. But they are being bombarded with complex and conflicting claims and do not know who or what to believe.

'Green must mean green, or consumers will switch off and simply turn their backs on sustainable choices. That would not only damage the environment but business too.'

Green advertising

The number of ‘green’ adverts investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) nearly doubled from 2007 to 2008, with the number of adverts falling foul of the ASA rules up by 140% in the same period - mainly in the motoring, utilities and energy sectors.

Adverts using technical terms such as '', 'carbon neutral' and 'carbon capture and storage' were particularly confusing to consumers.

Including recognisable labelling schemes such as energy efficiency labels on white goods, more endorsements from established green authorities such as Fairtrade and using simple terms that allow consumers to easily compare products and brands like for like on green claims would help to boost consumer confidence, according to Consumer Focus.

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