How harnessing marketing research can combat the damage of greenwashing

Editor’s note: Miriam Konz is EVP of corporate strategy and innovation at AMC Global. 

As sustainability rises in importance for consumers’ decision-making processes, brands must determine how to balance this with cost, performance, taste and the other factors that play strongly into shopping choices. Further, as companies look to implement sustainability practices, the issue of greenwashing has emerged as a significant challenge for brands across many categories. 

Greenwashing – the deceptive practice of misleading people about the environmental benefits of a product – can undermine consumer trust, tarnish brand reputation and hinder progress toward a truly sustainable future. Consumers are skeptical regarding many sustainability claims due to widespread greenwashing, and brands must use care when crafting sustainability innovations and subsequent messaging in order to overcome this skepticism.

Marketing research can help brands combat the reality and perception of greenwashing by gathering the insights needed to form trustworthy sustainability claims. These insights enable brands to demonstrate authenticity, transparency and accountability that rings true for their target audiences. So what is the role of market research in addressing greenwashing concerns and how can insights pave the way for a more sustainable marketplace?

Greenwashing threatens brand messaging

There are various forms of greenwashing out there in the marketplace that the savvy consumer is red-flagging. For example, in the CPG space, this can include vague or misleading labels, unsubstantiated sustainability claims or incomplete information on food and beverage products. Understanding how the messages about a company’s sustainability practices are being interpreted can help with the assessment of practices and messages that require improvement or new communications strategies.

Insights as an antidote for greenwashing

According to the Green Business Bureau, the widespread lack of consumer trust is in large part due to greenwashing and other inaccurate claims that companies make about their products. Marketing research plays a vital role in combating greenwashing and bolstering trust by providing insights into consumers’ perceptions, expectations and behaviors. Through a variety of both quantitative and qualitative approaches, businesses can gauge attitudes toward sustainability, identify gaps in knowledge and uncover potential skepticism surrounding “green” claims. This data-driven approach helps companies tailor their sustainability initiatives to align with the values of their target audience and create more impactful and genuine environmental initiatives (and the messaging that goes along with it). 

Improving sustainability education through insights

Not only can the insights from marketing research be used to inform initiatives, they can be employed to enable the development of educational campaigns that provide truly accurate information. By empowering people with knowledge and highlighting the importance of due diligence in assessing green claims, brands can support a more informed and discerning consumer base from the ground up.

Enhancing credibility through third-party certification

In the CPG space, we’ve seen a huge rise in potential product certifications over the past year. According to New Hope Network, there is an “abundance of labels, seals and certifications on natural CPG food products that can easily overwhelm nearly every consumer.” Brands in this space, for example, can use marketing research to shed light on the effectiveness and credibility of various third-party certifications and verification systems for their products. By conducting studies that measure trust and recognition of these certifications, brands can identify which seals and labels hold the most weight with their target audience. This insight allows them to partner with reputable certifying organizations, enhancing credibility and providing shoppers with assurance that green claims are legitimate.

Continuous feedback for sustainability initiatives

Using insights solutions that provide a continuous feedback loop for businesses to monitor and evaluate sustainability efforts will allow them to make necessary adjustments, address concerns and improve environmental practices. It also allows any organization to change course toward the greatest consumer trust – vital to brand loyalty. This iterative process ensures ongoing transparency and accountability, reducing the risk of falling into the greenwashing trap.

Driving positive change with marketing research

In the fight against greenwashing, marketing research serves as a powerful ally for brands committed to authentic sustainability. As consumers become increasingly discerning, businesses that embrace marketing research as a tool to combat greenwashing will not only gain a competitive advantage but also play a pivotal role in driving positive change in the marketplace – fostering a more transparent and sustainable business landscape.