Over half of UK consumers prepared to boycott brands over misleading green claims
KPMG research shows almost one in five (18%) have already changed their minds over 'greenwashing’
KPMG research shows almost one in five (18%) have already changed their minds.
Over half (54%) of consumers say that they would stop buying from a company if they were found to have been misleading in their sustainability claims, new research from KPMG in the UK has found.
KPMG UK surveyed over 2,000 UK adults on their thoughts around green and sustainable products and technologies to understand how they influence decisions, and whether misleading practices, i.e., ‘greenwashing’, were having an impact. The findings highlight that greenwashing is widely recognised by consumers with almost half (45%) stating they had heard of the term, with words such as fake, lying, exaggerating, dubious, and misleading all commonly being used unprompted to explain what the term is.
Over three quarters (76%) of respondents agreed that false or misleading claims about the sustainability of specific products was the clearest example of greenwashing. Other popular examples of what consumers believed constituted greenwashing were:
- Exaggerated or unsubstantiated sustainability credentials (73% of those surveyed)
- misleading commitments on net zero (66%)
- inconsistent ethical polices (60%)
- missing sustainability targets (39%)
Almost a fifth (18%) are already voting with their feet and say they have changed their mind about a company due to misleading green claims, this is more pronounced in the capital where a quarter (25%) of Londoners say they have done this. What’s more, over half (54%) state that they would stop buying products and services from companies found to have greenwashed, while 38% would stop investing in them.
Commenting on the findings, Richard Andrews, Head of ESG at KPMG in the UK said: “Companies keen to capitalise on the growing interest in sustainable products, should be taking a measured approach; overselling sustainability credentials risks losing customers as well as the reputational damage that will follow. While this might often be unintentional, understanding the data behind any sustainability claims is key, as well as ensuring that data has also been verified, if brands are serious about avoiding any greenwashing risks.”
The research highlights that many consumers care about the sustainability of items – two thirds of consumers (67%) say that they try to seek out green or sustainable options for some of the products and services they buy. However, a third (33%) of respondents said they were sceptical of green labels and sustainability claims, while a similar amount (28%) admitted to struggling to know what products were green or sustainable due to inconsistent labelling.
When asked which sustainability labels consumers recognised, for many awareness remains very low. Established marks like fairtrade (73%) and Rainforest Alliance Certified (44%) had the greatest awareness among respondents, while initiatives like the carbon reduction label (9%), B Corp (10%) and better cotton initiative (9%) all scored low on consumer awareness.
The energy sector (58%) was seen as the most likely to engage in greenwashing, with the fashion industry closely following (57%). However, this is reversed for younger respondents (18–24-year-olds), who deem the fashion industry as the most likely to greenwash (66%) and are slightly more positive about the energy sector (50%). Transport and automotive (51%) and grocery, food and agriculture (47%) were also seen as at risk of greenwashing by a large number of consumers.
Richard Andrews continued: “The results present a catch-22 situation for both companies and their customers. On the one hand customers are prepared to stop buying something if it has been linked to greenwashing, but they also admit that they struggle to navigate the labels currently out in the market. Meanwhile, companies are investing time and money verifying their efforts, but awareness of some of the environmental accreditation schemes remains very low.
“What is clear, is that any signs of greenwashing will diminish trust further, so it is imperative that companies continue to ensure all claims can be evidenced and that as new regulations are introduced, they are understood and adhered to. The risks of overselling being ‘greener than green’ are too high.”
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2067 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 18th - 21st August 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
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About KPMG UK
KPMG LLP, a UK limited liability partnership, operates from 20 offices across the UK with approximately 17,000 partners and staff. The UK firm recorded a revenue of £2.72 billion in the year ended 30 September 2022.
KPMG is a global organization of independent professional services firms providing Audit, Legal, Tax and Advisory services. It operates in 143 countries and territories with more than 265,000 partners and employees working in member firms around the world. Each KPMG firm is a legally distinct and separate entity and describes itself as such. KPMG International Limited is a private English company limited by guarantee. KPMG International Limited and its related entities do not provide services to clients.
 By "green or sustainable options", we refer to products, practices, or technologies that have minimal negative impact on the environment or promote ecological balance. These options aim to reduce resource consumption, waste generation, and greenhouse gas emissions while fostering environmental, social, and economic wellbeing.
 Greenwashing was defined, for the purposes of this survey, as behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is