Greenwashing, French washing, or sportswashing… It is impossible since the Covid-19 pandemic to ignore these terms, which are multiplying at a rapid pace to denounce the deceptive actions of certain brands aimed at improving their reputation in certain areas, including the environment. Many companies still communicate on their commitments to sell products that are supposedly ‘made in France’, eco-responsible, or ethical, without actually being so.
This has led to another phenomenon, greenhushing, which is the fear of brands that really produce in an eco-responsible manner to communicate on their approach. This has led to a loss of confidence among consumers, who no longer know who to believe in this whirlwind of information. As a result, brands are more distrusted than ever. This was revealed in a survey of 1,682 British adults by Sensu Insight*, which found that the fashion industry is one of the least trusted sectors in the eyes of consumers.
A complete lack of trust
Across all sectors, just under a quarter of British consumers (23%) say they take brands’ environmental claims seriously. Among the least receptive, a minority simply do not believe the claims (14%), three in ten believe they have been exaggerated, and an overwhelming majority (71%) believe they have probably not been verified or checked by an independent expert or regulator.
However, some sectors are more sympathetic to the public than others. Supermarkets, large retailers, the technology sector and food and drink manufacturers appear to have more credibility with consumers than airlines, car manufacturers or fashion brands.
In detail, only 35% of respondents say they are likely to believe the claims of fashion brands. Only two sectors are worse: airlines (32%) and travel agencies (33%). In contrast, supermarkets and large retailers are endorsed by more than half of respondents (51%).
As an example, in the fashion sector, Sensu Insight recalls the greenwashing denounced by internet users after the Swedish giant H&M appointed Maisie Williams as an ambassador for sustainable development. “Critics said it was a marketing stunt and that the money would have been better spent on the company’s commitment to a living wage for garment workers,” the report’s authors say.
A need for total transparency
Make no mistake about it, consumers are not fooled, and do not appreciate that some people try to lead them on with misleading communications. More than nine out of ten respondents (93%) believe they have come across what they thought was an example of greenwashing in the last month. In the firing line? Supposedly sustainable brands that do not back up their claims with facts or figures (33%), misleading advertising (32%), and false or exaggerated claims about product recycling (30%).
As a result, consumers are changing their behaviour (59%) by reducing their budget for a particular brand (23%), boycotting it (15%), or switching to a truly ethical or environmentally responsible company (13%).
According to the survey, to regain public trust, brands need to show more transparency and (real) commitment to the environment, which is currently not the case for 92% of respondents. But while transparency is the key for most respondents (86%), it also needs to be backed up by concrete actions, such as offering sustainable versions of existing products (24%). This survey, although only conducted in the UK, shows that companies still have a long way to go to gain the public’s trust in green issues.
*This survey was conducted among a nationally representative sample of 1,682 UK adults by Sensu Insight in October 2022.