Sometimes it is difficult to determine if brands are responding to consumer demand, or trying to create it. The market has been awash in various "environmentally-friendly" product choices across every category from cars to laundry detergents to wrist-watches. The green marketing messages accompanying these products have promised and championed everything from sustainable farming techniques, minimal or zero carbon footprints and cradle-to-cradle recycling.
The 2010 Edelman Good Purpose Study provides compelling evidence that the overwhelming majority of consumers think and care about the impact of issues such as health, poverty and education in their purchases and personal behavior. However the environment remains the No.1 social cause consumers care about. As a result green products and green marketing claims are on the rise. According to a survey by the marketing firm TerraChoice, the number of products claiming to be green increased 73 percent since 2009, and more than 95 percent of consumer products marketed as "green," make misleading or inaccurate claims, otherwise known as "greenwashing."
A decade ago there were only a handful of environmental seals and certifications attempting to bolster the environmental claims of marketers, howvever today sites like the Ecolabel Index and the ISEAL Alliance track literally hundreds. As a result there is growing concern that too many of these seals and certifications are misleading. There is also concern that the green marketing bubble may burst if the performance of green products and the credibility of green marketing claims do not match consumer expectations.
Could the increase in green products and the rise of unqualified green marketing claims be too much of a good thing? A recent GfK Roper Green Gauge study shows there have been big swings in the number of consumers who believe environmentally friendly alternatives are too expensive, don't work as well as other products and aren't actually better for the environment. The share of consumers who think green products are too expensive rose eight points in two years to 61 percent, while those who believe they don't work as well jumped nine points to 33 percent and those who believe they're not even as better for the environment in the first place increased eight points to 38 percent.
Whether you are a marketing professional, an advertising professional, a public relations professional, or a consumer, there are changes in the regulatory climate that you need to be aware of. The Federal Trade Commission, The Better Business Bureau, the media and a growing number of consumer advocates are taking action to reduce confusion in the marketplace for green products, increase self-regulatory efforts and step up enforcement of truth in advertising laws.
The FTC "GreenGuides" & Proposed Changes
With the growth of green products and marketing, as well as evidence of more and more murky environmental claims, the Federal Trade Commission has recently proposed revisions to its "Green Guides" for businesses that make environmental marketing claims. The original Guide was issued by the FTC in 1992 and revised them in 1996 and 1998 to provide administrative interpretations for the application of Section 5 of the FTC Act regarding environmental advertising and marketing practices. The updates were deemed to be necessary due to the dramatic increase in the numbers and kinds of environmental benefit claims being made by advertisers.