Green Marketing Claims Not Always Believed

August 16, 2010

SkyscraperWith all the talk in the press recently about the emerging “green economy,” the drive to “go green,” and be oil independent, one would think that Corporate America was on board.  However, according to a recent survey of consumers and executives, most people don’t think Corporate America is doing enough to “green up their act.” 

The study was conducted online in July 2010 by Harris Interactive® among 2,605 U.S. adults and 304 Fortune 1000 executives on behalf of Gibbs & Soell, a global independent public relations firm with communications expertise in advanced manufacturing, energy, greentech, and sustainable industries.  Only 16% of consumers and 29% of executives surveyed believe that the majority of businesses are committed to going green.  The perceived higher cost of going green was selected as one of the reasons businesses may not follow through on their claims.

“This general skepticism about the corporate commitment to environmental stewardship represents a critical communications challenge for business leaders,” stated Ron Loch, senior vice president-greentech and sustainability practice, Gibbs & Soell.  “Closing this credibility gap is going to require actions and communications that connect with key stakeholders. Having a dedicated staff and line item budget for green initiatives is an important step in making believers of employees, customers, and investors. For connecting with consumers, it means transparency and consistency of message.”

So, businesses, you better practice what you preach!  This skepticism is evident even in the new LEED rating system, Version 3.  Building owners are now required to provide energy use data to the U.S. Green Building Council in an effort to learn more about how green buildings are performing.  This highlights the fact that many buildings that were designed to be more efficient are not necessarily doing as well as should be expected.

Part of this disparity between modeled and actual energy performance could be attributed to lack of occupant training and education about living and working in a green building.  However, and I am only speaking from my experience, there are times when claims are made that do not match what is built, with an eye to appearing to be more efficient than reality dictates.  This is a real ethical dilemma, and in a field where ethics have not been explicitly addressed.

What does one do when one is asked to fabricate results to make a certain benchmark?  Is anyone really a victim in this situation?  Isn’t “massaging the truth” what marketing is all about (I believe they call it “spin”)?  How do we, as consumers, tell these companies that they need to clean up their act?  We hold them accountable for the effects of their actions and make them prove their claims with documented evidence.  Not an easy task when everyone has an angle, and politics and money can often be more important.

Photo courtesy of Borkur Sigurbjornsson through a Creative Commons License.



Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.