Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2018

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Amanda Carrico

Second Advisor

Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Heather Adams

Abstract

"Green” and more sustainable alternatives are advertised to consumers at nearly every purchasing decision. What consumers aren’t always aware of is that these products may not be as environmentally friendly as they state. Greenwashing is a phenomenon in which companies exaggerate or even lie about their claims to mislead and encourage consumers to purchase their products. Through an online survey, I collected and analyzed the perceptions of 368 participants from all over the U.S. This allowed me to determine if consumers believe a product with a greenwashed label is more sustainable than a product without a label at all. I was also able to determine if consumers were skeptical of the greenwashed labels and if they could recognize them as greenwashed claims, and furthermore, if those claims influenced their purchasing intention. Through a primarily quantitative study this honors thesis concluded that participants were more likely to believe a product was sustainable and they had a higher overall perception of the product, if it had a greenwashed label than if it didn’t. Participants weren’t skeptical of the labels at first, but once they were made aware of this phenomenon, they were able to identify labels as greenwashed. This honors thesis cannot conclude one type of greenwashing had more of an effect on consumers purchase intent than another. In addition, participants who ranked as High environmentalists fell into the trap of greenwashing as far as sustainability of the product, but they were more skeptical, had a greater ability to identify it, think it was problematic, and think it was common than Low and Moderate environmentalists. I also discovered older individuals were more trusting and less likely to believe greenwashing is problematic than younger individuals. Through these conclusions it becomes evident that greenwashing still works in convincing consumers they are getting a more environmentally friendly product that they actually are, and every consumer is vulnerable. Consumers were much more sensitive once their attention was brought to greenwashing. We need increased education and improved policies to help consumers get exposed to which labels are real, which ones aren’t, and when they are witnessing greenwashing in their everyday lives. As far as the future, further studies should look at the ability of consumers to recognize a greenwashed label or product from one that is not greenwashed.

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