Knowledge of environmental topics was best concerning wilderness issues, and the largest knowledge gap was in the products area, which suggests that the Sierra Club and other groups may have been more successful than corporations in their communication strategies.

Particularly striking is the case of chloroflurocarbons. Even though they were banned in 1978 by the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration for nearly all consumer products, only 14 percent of Americans knew about the ban 14 years later. Misperceptions also apply to the main sources of waste. Although paper is by far the largest waste component across the Triad—comprising 46 percent of the waste stream in Japan, 35 percent in the United States and 29 percent in the United Kingdom—many Americans underestimated its importance and focused on plastics instead. Plastics amount to less than 9 percent of waste in G-7 countries yet were ranked almost equal in importance to paper by Americans. These inadequacies in basic green knowledge have had a dramatic impact on products such as fast food and disposable diapers; companies such as McDonald's and Procter & Gamble faced intense consumer pressures that might have been avoided with better public information.

By contrast, several factors have helped to increase consumer awareness in Northern Europe. One milestone was the publication of The Green Consumer, which shot to the top of the British bestseller list in 1989 (Euromonitor Staff, 1989) The British edition, unlike the American edition, offered specific ratings for companies and products. A similar success was achieved by the guide's German equivalent, Okologie in Haushalt. Retail chains also played a powerful information role in Europe. Tengelmann began a campaign to win early green customers in 1984 in Germany, and in Switzerland, Migros developed a computer program to assess the life cycle impact of its packaging (Cairncross, 1992).

Impact of Green Advertising

In the United States, even though corporate and product-specific green advertising has expanded steadily, it has had relatively little effect so far. Strikingly, in a 1991 survey rating specific brands and companies, 66 percent of the 1,500 respondents could not name a single "environmentally conscious" company (Advertising Age, 1993). Of the firms named, Procter & Gamble was first, but with only 6 percent of the votes.

Two years later, the Roper green gauge survey (Roper Organization, 1993) showed a continuing pattern of skepticism. Consumers were still three times more likely to say that business is dragging its feet rather that doing a good job to protect the environment. In this context of consumer skepticism, the most effective approaches are fact based and objective or use external validation. Only 30 percent of Americans surveyed believed comparative environmental brand claims, but 54 percent trusted ads listing specific company actions in the environmental

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement