Combating Executional Greenwashing

Gabrielle Dyment and Anna Fenko presented their study at ICORIA 2023

Green advertising advocates for environmentally responsible lifestyles, makes claims of environmental friendliness, highlights corporate environmental initiatives, and often shows natural environments. Unfortunately, presentations of a brand as green can be intentionally misleading, which is called greenwashing.

Executional greenwashing is using images of nature in ads to mislead consumers that the brand is sustainable. Our study investigated how these nature images influence consumer’s attitude towards a brand and brand’s ecological image and whether truthful information about brand’s ecological performance (eco-labels) can mitigate this effect.

In the experiment, 172 participants were randomly assigned to one of the conditions combining green versus red eco-label and nature versus urban image. Consumers responded more strongly to the labels than to the images. Truthful information about the environmental performance of the brand (eco-labels) decreased environmental deception of executional greenwashing. The effect of eco-labels was stronger for participants who care for environmental.

When consumers are given the information needed to make informed evaluations, they will use that information and process it critically. We have also demonstrated that even consumers who do not care for environment were able to see past the effects of executional greenwashing when eco-labels were provided.

Therefore, eco-labels can be successfully used to combat executional greenwashing. Green brands and policy makers should take advantage of this finding.

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