25th January 2022

Brands must tread carefully as consumers grow more aware of greenwashing practices

With COP26 still firmly on our collective minds and sustainability increasingly pushed to the forefront of many brand strategies, businesses are starting to wake to reality that unless they have their house in order – consumers can see right through it. 

In a time where we have either kept one eye constantly on the news agenda or steered well clear to live in ignorant bliss – there have been some unavoidable truths. Our Reality Check 2022 report has brought to light some important elements of public sentiment regarding the green agendas from brands, and there is an undercurrent of cynicism towards their environmental ‘promises’  

It seems that brands and organisations wishing to engage the public with ethical initiatives are currently facing a trust deficit. Our research found that almost half (49%) believe that many brands that associate themselves with more meaningful causes are doing it for publicity stunts.  

Meanwhile nearly half of respondents (46%) say they have not yet noticed brands trying to promote a more ethical image – it seems that awareness of sustainable brand initiatives is still a major challenge for many.  

Pricing before ethics 

Despite the clear shift in public opinion on the urgency of climate action, our study shows that these messages aren’t resonating with everybody. It appears that people are most concerned with price as a driving factor for purchasing with only a third of people (31%) saying they had recently stopped buying products from a brand because they didn’t agree with their values. 

Even the demographics most typically engaged with environmental issues, are mirroring this sentiment. Over a third (35%) of those from a higher social grade said that price was more important than a company’s ethics when dictating a purchase. This attitude was higher amongst men (39%), and those with children (43%). 

Our study shows that the 35-54 age group appeared to be the most engaged on environmental and other ethical issues yet only a minority are prepared to act with, only 41% saying they had stopped buying from a brand because they disagreed with their ethics. 

Older generations are far less forgiving of hypocrisy however, with 67% of over 55s saying brands cannot get away with one thing and doing another, compared to 48% of 16-34s. 

Consumers are increasingly conscious of being sold to, and more importantly, lied to. Greenwashing is a hot topic within the industry and for good reason – almost half (49%) of the public now think that brands are guilty of ‘green washing’. 

The pandemic effect 

Our research also found that half of UK consumers are concerned that ethical issues have been outshone by Covid, with less than half of respondents being ‘concerned we’ve lost sight of issues around climate crisis as a result of COVID-19’. Surprisingly, this sentiment is mirrored in the younger age groups (49%) and dropped further with in over 55s (40%). 

The potential for good marketing 

Despite this cynicism, many people are also recognising the power of brands to make positive contributions, with almost 70% recognising the influence brands have on reducing carbon emissions. Alongside this, a majority agree that brands can influence promoting health and wellbeing (61%); ensuring everyone is treated equally (64%), supporting people’s local areas, and protecting green spaces (61%); improving education (55%), and improving transport (56%). 

It’s never been more challenging for brands to resonate with the public. Our research shows that the public mood is deeply fragmented with a lack of consensus that transcends traditional demographics such as age, social class, or even the part of the country you live in. It seems for some, issues like the climate emergency are very much front and centre, and for others, price remains a top priority. 

One thing is clear though, brands simply cannot underestimate today’s customers. Issues such as greenwashing are becoming increasingly notable, and brands must ensure they’re practicing what they preach otherwise the consequences could be huge. 

However, the good news is brands are in a good position to prove to the public that they can, and will, have a positive influence on society and the environment in tandem and create positive change. Even in this age of uncertainty, brands shouldn’t shy away from advertising that makes a stand on issues such as climate change. The future is in authentic advertising based upon a genuinely positive contribution.  

You can read Mindshare UK’s Reality 2022 report in full here. 

Mindshare UK
    Mindshare UK