Are your green claims helping – or hurting – your brand?

Are your green claims helping – or hurting – your brand?

A new report from UL Environment and Shelton Group sheds light on this question.

We’ve expounded on the perils of greenwashing and the benefits of product certifications in this space on more than one occasion – with good reason. The FTC beefed up its Green Guides in 2012 and rededicated itself to protecting the public from companies making unsubstantiated claims about a product’s greenness. It can and has taken enforcement actions against offending companies and levied some substantial fines.

And it’s not just the FTC companies have to worry about. Various consumer and watchdog groups are filing lawsuits grounded in the FTC guides and FDA labeling requirements. Witness the “All Natural” class action chaos and the Kroger Simple Truth chicken brouhaha.

So at Shelton Group, we’ve never stopped talking to clients about greenwashing and product certifications. However, in light of some new research, we’re bringing the subject to this forum once again.

Soon to be released by UL Environment, Under the Lens: Claiming Green The influence of green product claims on purchase intent and brand perception reports on a study that explored consumers’ perceptions of green claims and produced some clear, actionable insights that could help boost your brand.
Greenwashing is risky business – that’s a given. By now it’s also given that a product’s sustainability story, communicated effectively, can do much to sway purchase decisions and improve your corporate reputation. However, the devil – and the rewards – of green product claims are in the details, and it’s those details that this report dives into.

The different types of green product claims that now pervade the marketplace form a spectrum that ranges from outright untruths to factual statements certified by independent third parties. In between these lie an expanse of “problematic” claims, a collective name for confusing, vague and unsubstantiated claims, and “legitimate” claims – valid claims that can be substantiated but are not third-party certified.

Through a poll of more than 1,000 consumers, the study, conducted by Shelton Group, tested a multitude of specific claims from the home improvement, electronics, personal care and cleaning products sectors in head-to-head scenarios to gauge how they affect purchase behaviors and brand perception. The goal was to determine which claims have the most positive impact on purchase decisions and brand perception, which support a price premium, which are most confusing, and which can actually backfire on you.

Certifications win

It should come as no surprise that across the board, certified claims significantly outperformed all others. It also makes sense that overall, consumers today are a bit savvier than they used to be. They tend to recognize meaningless and unsubstantiated claims like “eco-friendly” and “cruelty-free.” But there are myriad other findings in the report that you may not have expected – like just how confusing consumers find perfectly valid claims about VOCs and “recycled content” and the clear correlation that appeared between confusing claims and negative brand impressions.

Other parts of the survey focused on different certifications – which have the most influence on purchase decisions and which add the most perceived value to a product.

UL has a 120-year history of safeguarding the public and issues some of the most trusted certifications out there. Through this report and a family of newer certification and validation services, its UL Environment business is helping people navigate through the current fog of green claims.

The full report will be available next week, and there’s a sneak peek in the form of an executive summary that you can download right now from a website we created to help UL get the study’s findings out there. While you’re there, you can put in a request for a link to the full report when it’s ready and sign up for a webcast being held on Tuesday, November 18, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern time. I highly recommend that you do just that. None of this will cost you a cent, but what you learn could add some real “green” to your bottom line.

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November 12, 2014

About the Author

Lyn Meany

Lyn Meany

Lyn conceptualizes and develops compelling content for a variety of clients, including CertainTeed Insulation and PowerSecure. She excels in both the technical and creative aspects of her work. Before joining us, she served as director of marketing at a leading scientific publisher, which was right up her alley – she holds a degree in physics.

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Suzanne Shelton

President and CEO

Suzanne is the voice and the vision of Shelton Group. Drawing on her extensive experience in energy and the environment – and 25+ years in the marketing and advertising industry – Suzanne provides high-level strategic insights for our clients and guidance for our research and creative departments. She regularly speaks at conferences around the country, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and the International Builders’ Show, and serves as a guest columnist for publications like Fast Company, Green Builder and GreenBiz.com.

Susannah Enkema

VP Research & Insights

Susannah directs our research team and plays a key role in extracting the nuggets of information that pave the way for recommended marketing strategies and creative approaches. Susannah has nearly two decades of market research and strategy experience, including her role as president of SE Consulting, where she led the services for the likes of DIY Network and the makers of GORE-TEX®.

Laila Waggoner

VP Client Engagement

Laila leads our client engagement process, overseeing activities from both a strategic and a tactical level to ensure our work generates desired results – and clients’ satisfaction. She brings 25+ years of marketing leadership experience to her client relationships, with particular expertise in the homebuilding and remodeling industries as well as member-driven organizations, such as the Vinyl Siding Institute and Plastics Pipe Institute. Before joining Shelton Group, she led strategic marketing teams for Owens Corning’s insulation business.

Matt Brass

VP Creative

Matt steers the creative department in concepting, designing and producing campaigns. He ensures sound strategy and deep insights inform everything his team develops, and works closely with the accounts department to ensure copy and designs will meet our clients’ goals. As a designer and filmmaker himself, he’s also a principal contributor to all of Shelton’s in-house photography and videography work.

Glen L. Vesser III

VP Finance and Administration

Glen manages Shelton Group’s finances and administration, ensuring our internal systems run smoothly so we can provide exceptional client service in a seamless and timely manner. Glen’s financial and administrative expertise has been shaped by decades of experience in a variety of industries, including public accounting, media distribution and health care.

Mike Beamer

VP Business Development

Mike joined our team to help provide strategic vision and foster our agency’s growth by overseeing new business leads and managing agency marketing and website content. He arrived in Knoxville steeped in energy efficiency and renewables – he previously led client service for an agency division in Boston dedicated to marketing communications strategy and branding for B2B and B2C clients in that space.