News Brief

Greenwash Getting Easier to Spot, But Still Confusing

A survey shows consumers generally find value in third-party product certifications but can be confused by less credible claims if not provided enough context. 

Consumers' Choices Between Green Claims

Certified claims beat problematic claims by a large margin, but the gap is not so wide between legitimate claims and problematic ones.

Source: The Shelton Group
A recent study commissioned by UL Environment, “Under the Lens: Claiming Green,” examines which types of green claims—third-party validated, legitimate but not independently verified, or just plain greenwash—today’s consumers buy into.

The picture shows that people largely get it: given the choice between a product with a green claim that has been certified by a third party and one with a problematic claim (defined as not meeting the standards set by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission), problematic claims were preferred only 22% of the time.  Consumers were less able to distinguish, however, between legitimate claims and problematic claims, and in the category of building products, one problematic claim—a manufacturer-created label promoting a “clean air formula”—beat out third-party certifications in rankings of importance and reliability.

Some legitimate and certified claims prompted a negative response if they used technical language or used logos with only the certification body’s name, which respondents found confusing, according to the report. A label advertising a VOC limit of 50g/L, for example, was ranked among building products as the most misleading or confusing and the most likely to negatively affect perception of the brand, with respondents citing that they did not know what VOCs (volatile organic compounds) were.

In contrast, certifications that verify low VOCs, like the Carpet & Rug Institute’s Green Label Plus and the UL Greenguard label, were among the top seven most trusted claims in the home improvement category. This suggests that certifications bring context that tell consumers VOCs are an important issue, according to the report.

UL Environment, one of the largest certifiers of green claims and the provider of the Greenguard certification, commissioned the report, but the survey was conducted by the Shelton Group, and, with a survey sample of more than 1,000 respondents, the authors say they have a confidence level of 95%.

Published December 19, 2014

Pearson, C. (2014, December 19). Greenwash Getting Easier to Spot, But Still Confusing. Retrieved from

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