It’s 2024 and unbelievably companies continue misleading consumers with false green claims in a shady attempt to raise their profits. Greenwashing is everywhere. Even the companies that sell the most mundane things – straws, cups, water bottles – are equipped with the best marketing techniques that confuse, manipulate and drive consumers to absolute madness. Believe it or not, there’s people actually camping outside stores in the U.S. to get a reusable cup…
On both sides of the Atlantic, consumers look for environmental information when making purchasing decisions. But many have understandably no idea of how it works.
Consumers often rely on the information that companies choose to showcase to make their purchases. And they are overwhelmed with the amount of green advertising in products. BEUC’s November study – together with ICRT – in 16 European countries, as well as the U.S., Canada, and Oceania looked at consumer perceptions of green claims. It showed that on both sides of the Atlantic, consumers look for environmental information when making purchasing decisions. But many have understandably no idea of how it works. More than 65% of Europeans and around 40% of Americans report knowing very little about the requirements companies must follow to use green claims.
Most of us do not realise that the banana we bought in the supermarket framed as “carbon neutral” relies on carbon offsets to make such a claim and still emits CO2. Misleading claims like these encourage consumers to continue making unsustainable purchases that slow down the fight against the climate crisis.
Consumers want to act sustainably…
Protecting our environment requires profound changes to the way we live. 54% of Europeans and 80% of Americans who responded to our survey report being anxious about climate change news. They are worried about major consequences stemming from climate change.
Nevertheless, the survey shows most consumers want to take action to reduce their environmental footprint and look out for reliable information. Close to half of the European respondents prefer buying products bearing an environmental label over products without one and 28% of Americans look often to very often for environmental information when shopping for products or services.
Greenwashing is not only bad for the environment but also for the companies who take environmental issues seriously and truly try to make their products more sustainable and sell them as such. Countries on both sides of the Atlantic agree that if they knew that the product or service was using false green claims, they would feel manipulated and stop buying from that manufacturer.
… But how can they spot misleading green claims?
Being a consumer shouldn’t be a full-time job. However, navigating the false labels feels a bit like rocket science. One in three respondents in Europe (34%) and the USA (36%) say they have noticed greenwashing at least once over the past 12 months.
Consumers expect that there would be some sort of verification from a public authority or a third-party organisation for these claims when in reality half of the labels present on the EU market today offer weak or non-existent verification
Across all surveyed countries, we can see that most consumers overestimate their capacity to distinguish between trustworthy and unreliable labels as well as the level of verification green claims and labels have to go through before appearing on the market. For instance, almost two-thirds of Europeans think that products and services bearing a “carbon neutral” claim have been produced without emitting any CO2 emissions at all, which is not true. Consumers expect that there would be some sort of verification from a public authority or a third-party organisation for these claims when in reality half of the labels present on the EU market today offer weak or non-existent verification.
79% of Americans believe that companies using false or unverified green claims/labels should be severely fined. And nearly three out of four European respondents think that “very polluting companies” should not be allowed to use any green claims at all.
So, are we doing anything to stop greenwashing?
Glad you asked! Our survey clearly shows consumers are not equipped to identify greenwashing and expect authorities to make sure claims and labels are reliable in the first place.
International efforts are needed to prevent false green advertising, such as making the sustainable choice the easy choice for consumers, promoting labels of environmental excellence (e.g, the EU Ecolabel), reinforcing enforcement against greenwashing, and accelerating international cooperation to fight against greenwashing globally. Restricting the possibility for fossil fuel companies to engage in any kind of advertising is a proportionate and consistent measure. Climate negotiators could draw inspiration from the 2003 World Health Organisation Tobacco Convention which paved the way for a ban on tobacco advertising.
Consumers need trustworthy environmental information to shift to a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s 2024, and it is high time to show companies that greenwashing won’t get their dirty hands clean.