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Consumers are confused by environmental claims of brands says research

The latest report from PR firm FleishmanHillard’s climate and sustainability unit, Sustainability, Communications and Climate Confusion, examines the public’s understanding of common sustainability claims found on many household items currently on sale in UK supermarkets today.

How confident are consumers in their understanding of environmental claims?

Consumers care

Even in the face of ongoing economic uncertainty and stress, over half (55%) of consumers feel environmental sustainability is important when shopping and nearly a third (31%) note that sustainability claims on packaging directly impact whether they’re purchase a product or not. Alongside this, 51% are willing pay more for a product with clear environmental sustainability claims.

At a time when all of us are seeing rising bills and shopping basket inflation, this presents a case for optimism with clear and resilient consumer demand for sustainability.

Confusion reigns

Yet even so, there is significant confusion about the terminology out there. Although some claims such as ‘recyclable’ or ‘made with less’ are easy to understand and have been around for a long-time, we’re seeing newer terminology or more complex environmental performance data creating unhelpful confusion and ultimately limiting the potential impact of these products on the market.

For example, just 41% of people say that they understand the term ‘Certified Carbon Neutral’ and the figure drops to 35% when talking about ‘carbon negative’ efforts. And just 28% feel confident they understand more specific climate footprint calculations. You might ask why any of this matters. But if shoppers don’t understand the language brands are using, what impact are those products having?

Greenwashing must stop

The fact that 48% of the British public somewhat or completely trust environmental claims, means that there is a huge onus and responsibility on businesses and brands to ensure that belief is well placed.

We’ve all seen the damage of greenwashing on reputation and the impact it can have on sales, stakeholder relationships, trust and more. But on the flip side, brands that are able to clearly and succinctly communicate their climate ambitions will win on multiple fronts.

Be clear

This is where communication professionals can play a critical role, helping to ensure that any environmental sustainability claims being put out in the world are correct and easily understood. It means being clear on the facts, using simple language and listening to what works for your end-audiences. That listening exercise allows you to relay the most influential information whether on packaging or beyond.


The results for ‘Sustainability, Communications and Climate Confusion’ are based on an online survey among a nationally representative sample of the general population in the UK. The survey was conducted by FleishmanHillard’s research and analytics practice, TRUE Global Intelligence in June of 2023 in partnership with Vitreous World.

Written by Imogen Sackey, associate director, climate and sustainability unit at FleishmanHillard

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