CHICAGO, IL — New research suggests some of the world's largest companies are still struggling with communicating their environmental efforts to customers.

The latest installment of MapChange 2010 -- a joint effort from Change, a Canadian consulting firm, Angus Reid Public Opinion, and the nonprofit Climate Counts -- measured actual and perceived sustainability efforts of major consumer shipping, food service and banking companies, using a scale of 0-100.

Yet while survey respondents chose Wendy's, McDonald's, United Parcel Service (UPS), Federal Express, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase as the most sustainable brands, performance often lagged -- sometimes by a large margin.

For example, UPS and Deutsche Post/DHL World Net scored 69 and 68 points, respectively, for their performance, but while UPS rang in at 76 points for consumer perception, DHL only earned 16 points, suggesting that UPS is much more effective in sharing its green message with the public.

"To compete, brands must innovate -- and the best new innovations tend to be sustainable," Change Founder Marc Stoiber said in a statement. "But even that's not enough in today's marketplace. Brands need to generate sustainable innovation quickly and communicate it effectively. When they don't – and when their green innovation isn't consumer-facing -- they sacrifice some of the competitive advantage of being a green leader."

Fast food giant Wendy's scored 64 points for consumer perception, but its performance score is an abysmal 2 points. Meanwhile, Wells Fargo earned a 66 point perception score, but its performance scored lagged with 27 points.

Examples of companies with closely aligned perception and performance scores include JP Morgan Chase (61 points perceived vs. 63 points actual), Bank of America (57 points perceived 60 points actual) and Starbucks (48 points perceived vs. 51 points actual).

The study used data from the most recent Climate Counts scorecard to measure actual brand sustainability. Climate Counts tracks corporate climate action at companies in 10 sectors on how well they've measured and reduced their carbon footprints, engaged on public policy, and communicated their actions.

To measure public perception, the study used results from an online Angus Reid Public Opinion survey of 2,032 U.S. adults for 97 companies in 10 sectors.

The partners previously studied the food and beverage, apparel, household, internet/software/media, electronics, airline and hotel industries.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user altemark.