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Manufacturers Hide Environmental Success

Manufacturers and retailers may be holding back on communicating their sustainability successes to customers, new research suggests.

More than three-quarters of industry executives from brand manufacturing and retail have concerns about “greenwashing” backlash and half mentioned a lack of consistency in sustainability measurements. These companies are struggling to find the right level of communication with consumers about their sustainability programs, Ryan Partnership said in a whitepaper.

Many brands are not entirely sure whether sustainability awareness directly drives purchase intent, or if consumers are wary of inflated green marketing tactics. For these reasons, manufacturers – whether self-described as “sustainable” or “conventional” – tend to deliver their sustainability messages within areas that have transparency. For example, they try to reach consumers in the context of claims and information about overall product quality, reliability and durability, the report finds.

Conventional manufacturers in particular turn to this “soft sell” approach, and use the sustainability message across a variety of brand communications and channels without making it the lead message, the report said.

The study, Communicating Sustainability Industry Report, produced in collaboration with Sustainable Brands and Market LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability) surveyed industry executives from brand manufacturing and retail, across product categories including consumer packaged goods, apparel, consumer electronics and other consumer goods.

Virtually all of the executives interviewed believe their organization’s sustainability commitment is a long-term one and that their commitment will only grow over time. The two top-cited reasons for this projected commitment are that “it’s the right thing to do” and that the company has experienced positive business results so far from its sustainability initiatives.

For many companies surveyed, sustainability has a solid business case. These executives say their firms have integrated sustainable practices such as resource conservation or increased recycling because they have led to increased operational efficiency and lower supply chain costs. Retailers reported sustainable practices most influenced by economic interests, with about two-thirds mentioning improved efficiency/lower costs as a reason for their corporate commitment.

Notably, less than one in six of the survey participants felt that consumer demand is driving corporate sustainability practices, Ryan Partnership research reports.

Meanwhile, the 5th Annual Tork Sustainability Study finds that 78 percent of US consumers buy green products and services, up from 69 percent in 2012. However, they are savvy purchasers.

The study finds that Americans are split when it comes to paying more for green products – if they could be guaranteed of ethical and responsible manufacturing practices. Under these conditions, 43 percent of Americans said they would pay more, while 44 percent said they would not.

The study, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of SCA, also found that within households with children under the age of 18, 78 percent of adults said they could determine if green claims and statements are true. Comparatively, 72 percent of households without children reported that they could make similar judgements about product claims.

Also, adults with children in the house are significantly more likely to pay more for responsible and ethically sourced products (51 percent) than those without children (39 percent).

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