Why the Public Is Cynical About ‘Green’ Products

Public relations professionals face no greater adversary than cynicism. Public disappointment, apathy or even anger are tough, but cynicism is a killer–it’s the main reason brands that falsely claim to be “eco-friendly” may never regain the public’s trust.

Various products have made “green”, “environmentally sustainable” claims for decades, but in recent years the trend materialized into a billion dollar movement—one that captivated consumers and their dollars, and then lost that good will faster than BP can say “Gulf of Mexico.” According to this article in Advertising Age, consumers continue to do what they can to save the environment–but they are no longer as willing to pay more for green products. Why?

Because consumers have come to view most of these claims as disingenuous, if not totally dishonest. The public is cynical, and that cynicism stems from negative experiences that leave the public feeling misled and abused. Consumers believe brands and products have duped them out of their money by marketing false promises; even worse, consumers feel that their good will and intentions were violated and exploited in the name of greed. For example, BP went so far as to change their name to mean “beyond petroleum.” If the world’s largest (and therefore most destructive) oil company can call itself “green”, then the phrase has truly lost all meaning.

Today the word “organic” inspires the same degree of public scrutiny as the words “Wall” and “Street.” It almost make us feel dirty– and not in a good way. Green marketing makes us subconsciously grab our wallets and look around, like there may be a pickpocket in the vicinity. There is nothing worse than being robbed a few dollars at a time, over and over again. And that’s exactly what false promises do.

So what is a PR professional to do? The public often decides to boycott a particular brand or product because of a negative experience, but what happens when they scorn an entire category? The few remaining brands that truly are “green” and  boast the credentials to prove it will continue to harp on their sustainability, but is that enough to convince cash-strapped consumers to shell out a few extra bucks for their goods?