By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

This just in from the inaugural Greenwashing Forum in Portland: Four out of five people say they’re still buying green products, even in the midst of the U.S. recession, according to a new opinion poll.

And they thought we were clinging to our guns and religion out here in the hinterlands!

The study, commissioned by Green Seal, a green certifier, and EnviroMedia Social Marketing, which founded the Greenwashing Index, looked at opinions and green behaviors.

It found that:

  • About 50 percent of the 1,000 people survey say they are buying just as many green products now as before the economic downturn
  • 19 percent say they’re buying more green products
  • About one-third of those surveyed say they’re not sure how to tell if a product’s green claims are true; they make their decision based on product reputation, word of mouth and brand loyalty
  • 24 percent said they read labels to discern a product’s environmental profile
  • 17 percent said they research products by looking up studies
  • Just 9 percent said advertising is their primary influence (the survey apparently did not explore whether this was the fault of poor advertising or consumer ad wariness).

The poll has a margin of error either way of about 3 percent.

EnviroMedia Social Marketing and the University of Oregon collaborated to create the Greenwashing Index, a website launched in 2008 where people can post complaints about and discuss green products.

GI users can “out” green claims that falsely puff up a product’s enviro credentials or praise products and companies they believe are sincerely socially responsible.

Ironically, the survey found that even consumers may greenwash their own profile, noting that 87 percent of those surveyed said they recycle, a number that does not square with the 33 percent of the nation’s trash that’s diverted from landfills. (This could, however, be the fault of inefficient recycling systems, among other things.)

Did the surveyors greenwash their own poll? That’s hard to tell. Their finding that people are not relying on green advertising does tend to support the need for better marketing, and — a Greenwashing Index! Hmmm.

Still, the survey sends a potentially valuable message to companies that capturing green-leaning customers requires showing them the goods.

“This research proves people want to do what’s best for the environment, but it needs to be easy and accessible. Companies should be clear about the environmental benefits of their products and services and make sure what they claim in the TV ad is backed up consistently on product packaging and on the Web site,” said Valeria Davis, EnviroMedia Principal and CEO, in a news release.

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