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Greenwashing Fears Common, Carbon Trust Finds – Only 7% of Public Believe Companies

Just seven percent of consumers take companies at their word on their actions to reduce climate impacts, according to a damning new report from the U.K.’s Carbon Trust.

The survey, supported by global brand analysis from BrandZ, also found that 66 percent of customers question whether companies are genuinely cutting carbon emissions.

Businesses are risking a costly backlash due to customers’ perception of greenwashing, the Carbon Trust said.  Just over half of respondents – 53 percent – said they are concerned that companies make one-time improvements to win publicity, before returning to business as usual.

The research found that 90 percent of the public wants firms to commit to the average three percent per year in emissions reductions that is required for the U.K. to meet its 2050 climate change targets. The poll also found that 70 percent want a requirement for businesses to disclose their carbon emissions, and 56 percent said they were more concerned about companies’ climate-related actions than they were five years ago.

The majority of those polled – 60 percent – say they need third-party evidence from respected climate change bodies before they will believe corporate claims.

“It’s clear that ‘green washing’; over claiming; and excessive jargon has created mistrust of brands,” Carbon Trust Standard general manager Harry Morrison said. “The good news is that by taking voluntary action now to measure, manage and reduce their impacts, there are huge opportunities for brands to stand out from the crowd.”

The survey did show some glimmers of hope, with 56 percent of those polled saying they are more loyal to brands that can show at-a-glance evidence of climate change action. And 53 percent said they want to work for companies which can clearly demonstrate commitment to reducing their climate impacts.

BrandZ said there is distinct correlation between the strongest, most successful performers in its annual Top 100 Most Powerful Brands ranking, and those brands which score highly on the categories of Corporate Reputation, Leadership and Innovation.  Environmental responsibility is one of the top characteristics of leading companies, BrandZ said.

The firm has found that while 80 percent of sales are generated by the product brand itself, 20 percnet of sales are directly linked to corporate reputation.

“Our own research shows that taking action on climate change represents a two percent sales increase or decrease for businesses to play for,” BrandZ global director Peter Walshe said. “Right now, this is an opportunity.  But as awareness rises of the considerable role of business emissions in climate change, I expect an imminent backlash against companies that do not perform or cannot prove their actions are measurable and authentic.”

The Carbon Trust is a not-for-profit company owned by the UK government but run independently of it. The Trust is charged with providing support to help businesses and public sector organizations find financial incentives for being environmentally friendly.

The Carbon Trust Standard is a voluntary seal identifying companies that are implementing carbon reduction strategies and committing to reducing their footprint year-on-year. Last month Motorola, British Land and Mothercare took the number of companies in the Carbon Trust Standard certification scheme to 500.

Earlier this month, the Carbon Trust joined with Siemens to announce a £550 million ($890 million) loan program to help cover the upfront costs that businesses face when switching to energy efficient technologies.

Earlier this year the U.K. government launched a toolkit to help companies avoid greenwashing.

The U.S. government is also working to update green advertising standards through proposed revisions to its Green Guides, which advise advertisers on sustainability claims, but the revised guidelines have yet to be finalized.

Opinion: Stoel Rives associate Joseph Eckhardt says producers, resellers, and consumers of “green” certificates and credits should take notice of the evolving federal guidelines.

Picture credit: Marcia Cirillo

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One thought on “Greenwashing Fears Common, Carbon Trust Finds – Only 7% of Public Believe Companies

  1. It’s not really surprising that people that trust businesses, given that the recent recession was in large part perpetuated but lack of transparency from the business sector. That doesn’t mean that businesses aren’t taking leadership with regard to sustainability. The book “Good For Business” does a stellar job cataloging the leaders in integrating sustainability into business. What these leading companies have learned is that in large part success at sustainability is contingent upon integrating sustainability priorities – energy reductions, tenant behavior, client priorities, etc – into the larger business objectives.

    In the building industry, many design and construction firms have begun to take leadership in this area through the Sustainable Performance Institute Certification program. Watch a short video about the program and let me know what you think: http://www.greenroundtable.org/certification.

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