How do retailers and brands overcome consumers’ ‘green’ skepticism?

Discussion
Sources: P&G, Sephora, Ulta Beauty, L’Oréal
Jun 11, 2021

A new survey finds U.S. consumers want to make more environmentally-friendly choices when shopping for apparel, but many are held back by a lack of availability and trustworthy information on what makes clothing more (or less) sustainable.

The survey of about 2,000 U.S. consumers from clean manufacturer Genomatica found that 86 percent believe sustainability is a good goal. Nearly three in four (72 percent) have heard of environmental sustainability issues in the fashion industry — listing excess consumption, carbon emissions and water pollution from dye processes as issues they’re aware of.

Forty-two percent, however, are confused about what makes apparel sustainable.

Other findings also point to consumers’ related frustrations:

  • Eighty-eight  percent of consumers don’t immediately trust brands that say they’re sustainable and half (51 percent) believe “greenwashing” is common in the fashion industry.
  • Fifty-five percent want apparel brands to help them understand how their products are more sustainable than alternatives.
  • Half say that a sustainability label would help them identify sustainable clothes while shopping.

In other categories, a recent survey conducted on behalf of Whole Foods found 75 percent of Americans say, when grocery shopping, it’s important to them that products are responsibly sourced, but 65 percent are confused about how to determine if it’s accurate of such products.

Whole Foods released the survey while launching its “Sourced for Good” seal for products certified by groups such as Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, Fair Food Program and Equitable Food Initiative.

In the beauty category, a recent study commissioned by haircare brand weDo/Professional found 57 percent of U.K. respondents consider themselves to be sustainable and ethical shoppers, but 61 percent struggle to tell if hair and skincare products are ethical from the packaging and 55 percent don’t usually check the eco credentials of makeup and hair care as they feel they have “no choice” but to buy items that aren’t sustainable and animal friendly.

The confusion appears similar to complaints over organic and natural labeling in food, although sustainability spans across industries and appears more complex with many linking the movement solely to environmentalism.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you generally find yourself skeptical of sustainability claims made by brands and retailers and do you think others do as well? What steps can brands and retailers take to address this skepticism and build a competitive point of difference in the marketplace?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"The key to overcoming consumers’ 'green skepticism' is simple: brands must do what they say their going to do."
"Brands and retailers are going to have to build a new type of marketing engine that focuses on fact and accountability around product impact on the environment."
"The simple way to prove that a product or brand is green is to truly be green. Greenwashing only exists when it’s marketing spin and not real."

Join the Discussion!

13 Comments on "How do retailers and brands overcome consumers’ ‘green’ skepticism?"


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Jeff Weidauer
BrainTrust

Greenwashing is so prevalent that virtually any claim made by a brand about its sustainability is immediately suspect. The only way to battle the skepticism is by providing the complete story – not just a single, specious claim on a package. Consumers who care will take the time to learn more and let others know.

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

Retailers need to walk the talk. It is as simple as that. It also helps if they share what they are doing with consumers via in-store marketing, social media, and other communications channels, but the most important thing is to stop the greenwashing.

Consumers are not stupid.

Michael La Kier
BrainTrust

The key to overcoming consumers’ “green skepticism” is simple: brands must do what they say their going to do.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

The have to do what they say they’re going to do. A Staples opened down here about a decade ago and it was supposed to be the first LEED certified store. I went. the building was very environmentally friendly. What they were selling (lots and lots of paper, plastic and you know, the stuff Staples sells) was not. Not recycled paper — just a regular Staples store inside a nice box.

So was I impressed by the “electric vehicle only” and “car pool only” parking spaces? Sure. But the innards of the store belied the outside of the store.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I am skeptical about anything being truly organic or sustainable if it comes from a national brand. Maybe that’s not fair but I know how marketers can spin things to make products more attractive to consumers. When it comes to apparel if I want products that are ethically sourced I go to indie retailers who walk the talk.

Labels on grocery items that spell out “locally sourced” in big letters, but the fine print says the item comes from a state 100 miles away, drive me crazy. That’s not local to me. If brands/retailers want consumers to believe what they say about sustainability then they have to be completely truthful about the products’ origins. The “it’s sustainable except for this one thing” fine print has to go. This is a cause that requires you to be all in.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Communication is the key to building trust in any relationship, and apparel retail is no exception. I would take a page from Whole Foods’ playbook and put signs inside the store indicating the green credentials of your assortments. I would also display tangible evidence of any green efforts inside the store, as H&M does with their responsible garment recycling boxes. Making it clear where you stand and providing visible evidence of your commitment to the cause will restore trust and confidence.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

The simple way to prove that a product or brand is green is to truly be green. Greenwashing only exists when it’s marketing spin and not real. True green initiatives create their own proof by being authentic, so being transparent about sourcing, processing, and environmental impact is the authentic brand story that consumers want to hear. Think like Patagonia.

DeAnn Campbell
BrainTrust

The rise of misleading news in the media has trained us to be skeptical. Add to this the relatively new focus on environmental issues with confusing and contradictory information splashed across every media channel — it’s no wonder we’re unsure of what’s real and what’s hype. Brands and retailers are going to have to build a new type of marketing engine that focuses on fact and accountability around product impact on the environment. Apparel brands especially should be diligent about understanding every nuance of their product’s journey – from raw material, manufacturing, packaging, distribution to end of life. Be transparent about where you are sustainable and where you are not, and don’t be afraid to reveal your work in progress. And above all, walk the talk as much as possible. Mixed messages build distrust, such as a stack of sustainably grown hemp t-shirts displayed on a plastic laminated fixture, or an online order delivered wrapped in three layers of plastic bubble wrap.

Gary Sankary
BrainTrust

Put me in the skeptic column. When I see industry organizations that report on environmental compliance in apparel, and on further investigation discover that the metrics and measurements are based on self-reported compliance reports by the manufacturers and retailers, I get extremely skeptical. There is a need for some sort of third-party compliance process. I applaud many apparel companies that have demonstrated a commitment to environmental stewardship. Patagonia and Addias come right to mind. But without real, verifiable metrics, it’s difficult for me to be on board with the idea that this is an industry priority.

The technology exists to verify a product’s origin throughout its construction, from the cotton field to the rack. We do this in food pretty successfully. I strongly believe with the advancements in RFID and blockchain we could do this apparel. With a verifiable system of record in place, I think consumer confidence would go up and more manufacturers would be willing to make the investments needed to meet the demand for “green” products.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Brand owners, retailers, logistics providers, consumers, and local governments need to work together to develop green products that are sustainable from farm to fork or from cradle to grave. Sustainability should not be looked at in silos like it is today.

Brian Cluster
BrainTrust

Sustainability has to be part of the fabric of conversations internally, with customers, and on Wall Street. The vision and few simple strategic goals in the annual report on sustainability should be visible in the store, on the website, and in the communications with customers. Retailers then need to align the teams and build out the data framework and responsibility to be able to measure progress. Lastly, communication on the performance of the sustainability measures should be transparent and data-driven and reach the same constituents and communication channels on a consistent basis.

This level of commitment, data management/evidence will prevent much of the skepticism of greenwashing claims.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

I definitely think there’s a great deal of confusion, though with claims in general. I don’t think “sustainability” per se, is mentioned very often, but I’m not sure how that’s to be avoided, given the vastly differing levels of interest and even knowledge in the public (look up “dihydrogen monoxide.”)

The first issue to be addressed is, what is a brand trying to accomplish? Is it really trying to “make a difference,” as it were, or just sell stuff by impressing people? The answer to that question will guide how something is marketed.

Jlauderbach
Guest

This is the age of mis and dis information so skepticism in any pronouncement is to be expected. I do not even believe the “certified by” agencies cited as “proof.” There are so many definitions of being sustainable or being green, it is no wonder there is confusion, if not distrust.

If supporting a company that is holistically supporting and operating sustainably, then the onus is truly on the customer to research the company’s actions and statements.

A company must be transparent and open to inspection to earn trust. When that occurs, I believe it could be a competitive advantage to those who value the attributes. I do not believe a company fully commits to being sustainable for competitive advantage, it is driven more by what needs to be done for our survival.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"The key to overcoming consumers’ 'green skepticism' is simple: brands must do what they say their going to do."
"Brands and retailers are going to have to build a new type of marketing engine that focuses on fact and accountability around product impact on the environment."
"The simple way to prove that a product or brand is green is to truly be green. Greenwashing only exists when it’s marketing spin and not real."

Take Our Instant Poll

How would you describe most sustainability messages from most brands?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...