The British public perceives big-name brands like Nivea, Shell and BP as ‘Green brands’ alongside those such as The Body Shop and Aveda, according to a WPP survey released last week.
The survey, conducted by Landor Associates in collaboration with Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates and Cohn & Wolfe, polled 1525 people of all socio-economic backgrounds about their perception of 37 mainstream brands across diverse sectors, including cosmetics, petrochemicals and retail.
The findings reveal widespread public support for action on climate change, but highlight confusion among consumers of what ‘being Green’ actually means.
Phil Gandy, planning director at Landor, explains that almost 60 per cent see carbon emissions, sustainable policy, recycling and conservation measures as important factors in a company’s Greenness. Just 5 per cent of those surveyed feel that eco-friendly products come into the equation, while nearly a quarter doesn’t know.
Emmanuel Rey, UK general manager of the ethical cosmetics company Aveda, which ranks below BP and Tesco in the survey, highlights this confusion. ‘The difficulty is that the issue of being Green is so complex. It means different things for different companies, as well as for the public. For Aveda, it’s about how product ingredients are sourced, conserving water, minimising energy consumption, managing waste properly, looking at minimal packaging and ethical manufacturing.’
According to the survey, The Body Shop tops the list of the top 20 Green brands in the UK, followed by Smart and Waitrose. Toyota comes in at 12th place, followed by Nivea, Shell and Indesit. Google and Eurostar cut in at 19th and 20th place respectively.
Rey is not surprised by the findings. ‘It comes down to brand awareness. The companies listed have been very active in communicating their [ethical] commitments to the public. On the other hand, Aveda doesn’t advertise and we communicate our positioning through point-of-sale or [through] our products,’ he says.
The survey reports that out of eight ‘industries’, body care is perceived as the Greenest, followed by grocery and appliances. Although travel comes last on the list because of negative press about carbon emissions, Virgin Atlantic ranks 13th in the top 20 Greenest brands.
‘Being seen to be ethically concerned is important but just being “modern and likeable” – like Virgin or Google – can be enough to bestow a powerful Green halo effect,’ says Gandy.
For Rey, a Green agenda is crucial to any brand. ‘For Aveda, one of our founding principles is to protect the environment, but for other companies it’s a chance to change their way of functioning. I’d hope that the Marks & Spencers and the Tescos are taking these steps not only for the sake of looking good in the eyes of the consumer,’ he says.
Mike Dempsey, founder of CDT Design, remains sceptical, however, about the motives of big brands. ‘Some environmental exposés of last year just go to show that you can still have the public perceive you as being ethically responsible as long as you have the might and PR spend,’ he says.
Gandy says that although the survey shows that brands with a Green agenda and strong brand communications are the most successful in projecting a Green image, he is keen to point out that what he calls ‘brand Greenwash’ will not do. ‘Although the public tends to interpret Greenness in shorthand, knowledge of this area is increasing. Companies have to be transparent,’ he says.
TOP 20 UK GREEN BRANDS
1. The Body Shop
4. The Co-operative Bank
6. Marks & Spencer
13. Virgin Atlantic
INDUSTRY RANKING BY GREENNESS
1. Body care
7. On-line technology