Eight-in-ten Americans don’t believe companies are addressing all of their environmental impacts, and only 44 percent trust companies’ green claims. And that skepticism may affect sales: as many as 77 percent would be willing to boycott if misled, according to the 2012 Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker.

American consumers expect companies to address the full environmental impact of a product’s lifecycle, from the impacts associated with manufacturing the product (90 percent), to using it (88 percent), to disposing of it (89 percent). And although 69 percent of American consumers routinely or sometimes consider the environment when making a purchasing decision, they are influenced most by end-of-life messages, followed by other factors:
• 42 percent say they are most influenced by messaging related to the environmental impact of disposing of a product
• 33 percent say they are most influenced by messaging related to the environmental impact of using a product
• 25 percent say they are most influenced by messaging related to the environmental impact of manufacturing a product.

“The emphasis on disposal is not surprising considering it’s an area in which consumers feel they have a responsibility and have control over what they do with products after use,” says Jonathan Yohannan, Cone Communications’ executive vice president of corporate responsibility. “However, what most consumers don’t know is that for many product categories, disposal may represent the least significant aspect of a product’s impact. There’s an opportunity for companies to reframe the discussion and educate consumers about what they’re doing to reduce a product’s impacts across the supply chain.”

Consumers are less inclined to do their own homework on the environmental impacts of a company’s products. Instead, 73 percent of consumers want companies to provide more environmental information on the product packaging to help inform their shopping decisions. And the majority of consumers (71 percent) wish companies would do a better job helping them understand the environmental terms they use to talk about their products and services.

Further clarity is needed because more than half of consumers continue to erroneously believe that common environmental marketing terms such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” mean a product has a positive (36 percent) or neutral (18 percent) impact on the environment. Fewer consumers were able to correctly identify these terms as meaning the product has a lighter impact than other similar products (25 percent) or less than it used to (3 percent).

The messages consumers want most, it seems, are those that are precise. When purchasing a product with an environmental benefit, consumers cited a symbol or certification (81 percent) and a message with specific data or outcomes (80 percent) as most influential in their decision to buy. For 73 percent, a more general environmental statement, such as “uses less water,” is influential.

“Companies are making great strides in setting and achieving environmental goals, but if they are not communicating to consumers in a highly visible way – including the precious on-pack or in-store real estate – the messages may not get through,” says Yohannan. “Consumers are listening, but they are not necessarily seeking out this type of information. The onus is on companies to actively provide it in language and places the consumer will understand.”

Green stigmas persist when it comes to consumers’ decisions not to purchase products with an environmental benefit. Forty-two percent of Americans have been discouraged from buying because they believed it cost more than the traditional product, and a third believed the environmentally preferred product would not be of equal quality. Other barriers include:
• 27 percent say they didn’t trust the environmental claim on the product
• 23 percent say the product was difficult to find
• 16 percent say the product design was unattractive

Concerns over cost can deter consumers, but cash savings can also drive purchases. Nine-in-10 consumers say they are motivated to buy an environmental product because it will save them time or money in the long-run. Other motivations are more aspirational. Eighty-eight percent say they are inspired to buy environmental products because it’s healthier for themselves, their families or their communities, and 85 percent want to preserve the environment for future generations.

“As we’ve seen maturity in the green space, the majority of American consumers are saying this is still an expectation, and now the opportunity for companies is to continue to educate them and stay engaged,” says Yohannan. “Now is the time to tell stories and connect the dots about the full impact of a product and the consumer’s role in the process.”