Green seals and certifications: Friend or foe?

As consumers increasingly support companies committed to altruism, investing in third-party verification may provide a marketplace advantage.

Diane Ray, Vice President

March 20, 2020

4 Min Read
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Consumers are influenced by a wide range of informational sources in their purchases of healthy and green products. They rely on friends and family, doctors and other health professionals, and information on package labels, blogs, websites and other online sources, among other sources. And as consumers have increasing access to information and technology, they have become highly discerning and educated about the products they buy. With so much data at their fingertips, consumers are no longer satisfied with claims made by manufacturers or marketers; skeptical consumers now demand impartial proof and third-party verification. The use of green seals and certifications are one way to legitimize the environmental and social claims products make.

Too many seals

Although seals and certifications certainly can provide a degree of “proof,” no doubt an overwhelming number of options exists. Literally hundreds of registered green logos are available around the world, spanning every industry and product category imaginable. Given the sheer number of seals, it is difficult for consumers to know what each seal means, whether it’s credible, and how it is different from all the others. Consumers feel overwhelmed. Since 2002, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) has conducted a survey of about 3,000 U.S. consumers for its annual State of Sustainability in America study. Data from the 2019 study showed about half of consumers (46%) feel there are too many green seals and certifications. Consumers are confused and thus the desired benefit of the certification can get lost.

Motivation to purchase

While ubiquitous, green seals and certifications play an important role in today’s green marketplace and can have a strong impact on consumer purchases. About 4 in 10 of the general population indicated a green seal or certification mark increases the likelihood they’ll buy a given product. This influence varies widely by different groups of people. NMI’s Sustainability Segmentation sectioned consumers in the general population by the various shades of “green” they exhibit based on their preferred type of environmental or sustainable engagement. The consumer segment considered the “greenest” is the LOHAS (lifestyles of health and sustainability) consumer. These individuals are integral to helping drive sustainability into the mainstream. The likelihood that a green seal or certification will positively impact their purchases is significantly higher than the general population, as well as the other segments within the population who have weaker green attitudes and behaviors. In addition to being highly entrenched in sustainability, these consumers are important as they are early adopters and influencers, they spend more annually, and they are willing to pay more for green products.

Figure 1: Percentage of consumers who agree completely/somewhat that “A seal or certification mark indicating a product is environmentally friendly increases the likelihood I'll buy it."

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Leverage understanding to increase purchase impact

The gap between recognition/understanding of seals and positive purchase impact is important to highlight and may, in part, account for the lower purchase intent of the sustainable mainstream segments. Large gaps between understanding and purchase intent indicate that while consumers may understand the seal, it may not be meaningful enough to change purchase behavior. This presents an opportunity to better educate consumers about the underlying issues and why their purchase matters. Beyond recognition, seals and certifications have to provide a level of value to the consumer and an authoritative “voice” in order to impact purchase.

Figure 2: Percentage of general population who recognize/understand selected green certifications vs. % who are more likely to buy a product with the seal.

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Use of green seals and certifications is one way to legitimize the environmental and social claims that products make. They can be a valuable part of the marketing mix for green products, but marketers should be aware of the growing clutter, and that seals, like any brand, need to be supported with consistent marketing. The message or explanation of the certification must be clear, differentiated and provide distinct benefits—not only for the environment at large, but also for the consumer in particular. Understanding different consumer segments’ motivations and values, and aligning these with an eco-friendly message is necessary for the seal/certification to gain traction, promote loyalty and provide legitimacy.

Diane Ray is vice president, strategic innovation, at the Natural Marketing Institute. NMI is a strategic consulting, market research and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness and sustainability marketplace. For more information on NMI’s services or proprietary research tools, contact her at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Diane Ray

Vice President, Natural Marketing Institute (NMI)

Diane Ray is vice president, strategic innovation, at the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI). NMI is a strategic consulting, market research, and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness and sustainability marketplace.

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