Over half (54%) of consumers say that they would stop buying from a company if they were found to have been misleading in their sustainability claims, new research from KPMG in the UK has found.
KPMG UK surveyed over 2,000 UK adults on their thoughts around green and sustainable products and technologies to understand how they influence decisions, and whether misleading practices, i.e., ‘greenwashing’, were having an impact.
The findings highlight that greenwashing is widely recognised by consumers with almost half (45%) stating they had heard of the term, with words such as fake, lying, exaggerating, dubious, and misleading all commonly being used unprompted to explain what the term is.
Over three quarters (76%) of respondents agreed that false or misleading claims about the sustainability of specific products was the clearest example of greenwashing. Other popular examples of what consumers believed constituted greenwashing were:
- Exaggerated or unsubstantiated sustainability credentials (73% of those surveyed)
- misleading commitments on net zero (66%)
- inconsistent ethical polices (60%)
- missing sustainability targets (39%)
Almost a fifth (18%) are already voting with their feet and say they have changed their mind about a company due to misleading green claims, this is more pronounced in the capital where a quarter (25%) of Londoners say they have done this. What’s more, over half (54%) state that they would stop buying products and services from companies found to have greenwashed, while 38% would stop investing in them.
Richard Andrews, Head of ESG at KPMG in the UK said: “Companies keen to capitalise on the growing interest in sustainable products, should be taking a measured approach; overselling sustainability credentials risks losing customers as well as the reputational damage that will follow. While this might often be unintentional, understanding the data behind any sustainability claims is key, as well as ensuring that data has also been verified, if brands are serious about avoiding any greenwashing risks.”
The research highlights that many consumers care about the sustainability of items – two thirds of consumers (67%) say that they try to seek out green or sustainable options for some of the products and services they buy. However, a third (33%) of respondents said they were sceptical of green labels and sustainability claims, while a similar amount (28%) admitted to struggling to know what products were green or sustainable due to inconsistent labelling.
When asked which sustainability labels consumers recognised, for many awareness remains very low. Established marks like fairtrade (73%) and Rainforest Alliance Certified (44%) had the greatest awareness among respondents, while initiatives like the carbon reduction label (9%), B Corp (10%) and better cotton initiative (9%) all scored low on consumer awareness.
The energy sector (58%) was seen as the most likely to engage in greenwashing, with the fashion industry closely following (57%). However, this is reversed for younger respondents (18–24-year-olds), who deem the fashion industry as the most likely to greenwash (66%) and are slightly more positive about the energy sector (50%). Transport and automotive (51%) and grocery, food and agriculture (47%) were also seen as at risk of greenwashing by a large number of consumers.
Richard Andrews continued: “The results present a catch-22 situation for both companies and their customers. On the one hand customers are prepared to stop buying something if it has been linked to greenwashing, but they also admit that they struggle to navigate the labels currently out in the market. Meanwhile, companies are investing time and money verifying their efforts, but awareness of some of the environmental accreditation schemes remains very low.
“What is clear, is that any signs of greenwashing will diminish trust further, so it is imperative that companies continue to ensure all claims can be evidenced and that as new regulations are introduced, they are understood and adhered to. The risks of overselling being ‘greener than green’ are too high.”