Are These Really America's Top 10 Green Brands?

Today's quiz: How well do consumers understand "green" brands?

(1) They are savvy.
(2) They don't have a clue.
(3) They don't care all that much.
(4) All of the above.

The answer, judging from the results of this year's ImagePower Global Green Brands Study, is (4) all of the above.

Hey, who ever said communicating about "green" is simple?

The survey, which comes from advertising and marketing giant WPP, is based on interviews with about 9,000 people in eight countries.

In the U.S., where researchers conducted 1,200 interviews, consumers identified these Top 10 green brands:

1. Seventh Generation
2. Whole Foods
3. Tom's of Maine
4. Burt's Bees
5. Trader Joe's
6. The Walt Disney Company
7. S.C. Johnson
8. Dove
9. Apple
10. Starbucks, Microsoft (tied)

One important caveat: Consumers chose these brands from a universe of 45 brands in limited product categories, including personal care, grocery, household products and electronics -- which is why you don't see the Toyota Prius or Stonyfield Farm on the list:

If you want to argue that (1) consumers are savvy, read the first four names and stop. They four are what the researchers call "born green" companies, that is, companies that from the get-go set themselves apart from competitors by touting their environmental credentials.

Seventh Generation makes non-toxic cleaners and household products, Whole Foods sells lots of organic fare, Tom's of Maine uses only ingredients found in nature in its toothpaste and Burt's Bees offers earth-friendly personal care products.

"Consumers really get their authenticity," says Annie Longsworth, global sustainability practice leader for Cohn & Wolfe. Having reported on all four companies, I agree that they deserve to be on any list of green brands.

That's not so with the next name on the list, Trader Joe's, a privately-held company that doesn't reveal much about its supply chain, doesn't report on its footprint and has been a target of activists. [See my 2009 blogpost, Greenpeace ridicules Traitor Joe's.] The belief that Trader Joe's is green supports the believe that (2) consumers don't have a clue.