Green: Mainstream But Confusing
June 30/Knoxville, Tenn./Business Wire -- New results released today from a national survey, one of four annual surveys conducted by the Shelton Group, show most Americans are trying to buy more green products, but many do not have enough knowledge to make meaningful choices.

When asked, "Which is the best product description to read on a label?" Americans chose "natural" over "organic."
"100% natural" -- 31%
"All natural ingredients" -- 25%
"100% organic" -- 14%
"Certified organic ingredients" -- 12%

"Many consumers do not understand green terminology," said Suzanne Shelton, whose firm, the Shelton Group, conducted the national survey. "They prefer the word 'natural' over the term 'organic,' thinking organic is more of an unregulated marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive. In reality, the opposite is true: 'Natural' is the unregulated word. Organic foods must meet government standards to be certified as such."

The survey found most Americans (60%) are looking for greener products.

"Green has officially gone mainstream," Shelton said. "It's no longer the stereotypical granola crunching tree huggers who want green products. It's everyday Americans."

However, there is a lot of confusion. When asked, "How do you know a product is green?" the top responses reflected the belief that it is difficult to really know:
Don't know/Not sure -- 22%
Says so on the package/label -- 20%
Read label/Ingredients -- 15%
Environmentally safe/friendly -- 13%

"People are uncertain what to trust, so there's almost a 'buyer beware' attitude in the market, with consumers feeling they have to rely primarily on what they can read on the label," Shelton said. "Consumers want a trusted source for accreditation, one that is simple to understand.

"That's why appliances with the ENERGY STAR certificate are so attractive," Shelton added.

Trust is clearly an issue for consumers. The survey found they do not exactly trust companies' motives for going green. The question wa asked, "Why do you think most companies that adopt environmentally friendly practices do so?" In response, one quarter of respondents said "to make their company look better to the public," and only 7% chose "because their owners/shareholders care about the environment."

When asked what they would do if a company that makes one of their favorite products and had been advertising itself as green received a government fine for failing emissions standards or for polluting a nearby stream, 40% said they would stop buying the product. More importantly, 36% would not only stop buying, they would encourage friends not to buy the product.

"This is a clear message to corporate America: Don't 'greenwash,'" Shelton said. "There's more potential for backlash with a half-hearted green claim than there is for an increase in sales."

More about the survey can be found at

From the July 6, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition