Brands struggle to prove green credentials

11 June 2010

NEW YORK: Only a small number of multinational brands have convinced consumers that they are leading the way in the field of sustainability.

Cohn & Wolfe partnered with Esty Environmental Partners, Landor and Penn Schoen Berland to survey 9,022 adults in Australia, Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, the UK and US.

Over 60% of participants said they would like to buy products from "environmentally responsible" firms, although this factor still fell behind value, trust and customer care among their main priorities.

Burt's Bees, Whole Foods and Tom's of Maine were cited as the three best "green brands" in the US.

Trader Joe's and Google completed the top five, with Aveeno, SC Johnson, Microsoft, Publix and Ikea all featuring in the national top ten.

In China, best green brands were evenly divided between domestic and foreign firms, with Haier, Nongfu Spring, Lenovo, Shangri-La Hotels and the HuiYuan Juice Company all in the former category.

Microsoft, Intel, Nokia, Ikea and Apple were among the international operators that were regarded as displaying best practice habits in this area.

Nokia claimed first position in India, where local players such as Wipro, Reliance Fresh and Infosys also made a mark, while Toyota, Google and Ikea took the plaudits in Australia.

Brazil's top four was made up entirely of indigenous operators – in the form of Natura, O Boticario, Ype and Guarana Antarctica – with Nestle, Unilever and Johnson & Johnson also performing well.

The Body Shop claimed top spot in the UK, a status that was assumed by Yves Rocher in France and Gerolsteiner in Germany, indicating no one company has stamped its authority on this area as yet.

Elsewhere, some 59% of the panel in India and 72% of their counterparts in Brazil also argued that the environment was more important than the economy, far higher scores on this measure than elsewhere.

Elsewhere, more than 30% of respondents as a whole were planning to boost their expenditure on green brands this year, including over 70% of contributors in Brazil, China and India.

Less positively, more than 80% of respondents believed that products with strong credentials in this area typically cost a premium, and 61% thought they were "too expensive".

In contrast, over two-thirds of shoppers in India and Brazil stated that a lack of choice was one of the main obstacles to heightened uptake of goods with an eco-friendly positioning.

In Germany, 65% looked for an official certification mark which demonstrated a brand's strong sustainability credentials, more than in any other country.

65% stated that green advertising helped them make more informed decisions and understand product benefits. 

While 44% of shoppers in the US planned to maintain their expenditure in 2010, only 35% expected to heighten their outlay, a drop of 4% compared with a similar study published in 2009. 

Respondents in India and China placed the greatest importance on companies being green, with 97% of contributors in each nation putting an emphasis on this matter.

Similarly, 79% of Americans were more concerned about the economy than the environment, and 76% thought good value was the key driver of companies activity, with issues such as sustainability on just 37%.

In the UK, two thirds prioritized the financial climate over the environment, and most thought brand owners should reduce the amount of packaging they used.

Elsewhere, 78% of the respondents in France said that the cost of eco-friendly products was a major hurdle to rising levels of uptake, and 89% believed these goods were more expensive, the highest of any country.

Moreover, France was the only market where consumers stated that too much green advertising makes them want to “tune out”.  

Data sourced from Cohn & Wolfe; additional content by Warc staff