Most Green Labels Fail to Catch Shoppers' Eyes, Survey Finds

Most Green Labels Fail to Catch Shoppers' Eyes, Survey Finds

[Editor’s note: This is an updated version that corrects the name of the federal agency issuing the organic label.]

According to a recent survey of 2,000 people in the U.S., the bulk of the more than 400 green labels on products have failed to make any mark in the minds of shoppers, and that among those that people are familiar with, there is very little trust in those labels.

The most familiar labels are the Recycling symbol, the U.S. government's Energy Star label, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Organic label. Recycling and Energy Star are the most visible labels, with 89 percent and 87 percent recognition, respectively. The Organic label has 62 percent recognition, and the remaining labels fall off quickly from there. (See chart below for full results.)

Figure 1

Beyond the familiarity (or lack thereof), the survey found that only two of these labels are high on shoppers' radars: 31 percent say they "always" buy Energy Star-labeled products, and 20 percent say they "always" buy Recyclable.

The number of respondents claiming to "always" purchase the next two most-familiar labels, USDA Organic and the Smart Choice label, falls dramatically to 8 percent and 7 percent, respectively. (See the chart below for the full rankings.)

figure 2

“While the majority of U.S. consumers are unfamiliar with most trustmarks today, we believe that certifications can work for forward-looking brands in several ways,” Mitch Baranowski, founding partner of BBMG, said in a statement. “Trustmarks help ensure companies follow best practices by setting clear and transparent standards. They serve as important proof points for overall brand messages and stories. And they can provide an objective, third-party stamp of approval that demonstrates how companies are following through on their social and environmental claims.”

To that end, Baranowski posted a list on the BBMG blog of seven recommendations for how to promote a label that will stick in shoppers' minds, and keep from succumbing to some of the most common pitfalls of green product branding. Among his list of recommendations:

Claim ownership. If you’re going to go through the time and trouble of establishing and promoting certification standards, you deserve credit. Acronyms need help. The LEED trustmark is clearly brought to you by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Design for the long haul. Reducing a complex idea to its visual essence takes time and expertise. But it’s done every day. Give designers clear direction (and space) to create symbols that are durable, functional and beautiful. Most people will only know the certifications through the symbol; it’s important.

Go for one clear idea. It’s amazing how many trustmarks say…nothing at all…or way too much. It’s laughable to consider Fruit Loops a smart choice for breakfast, but at least the Smart Choices mark sends a clear message.

Baranowski's full list of recommendations is online at BBMG's blog, and more details about the trustmark survey are online at