National Survey: Green Is Officially Mainstream – But Consumers Are Confused, Skeptical About Products

Many Believe that ‘Organic’ is Just a Marketing Claim That Really Means ‘More Expensive’

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.--()--New results released today from a national survey, one of four annual surveys conducted by the Shelton Group, show most Americans are trying to buy more green products, but many don’t have enough knowledge to make meaningful choices.

When asked, "Which is the best product description to read on a label?" Americans chose “natural” over “organic.”

  • “100% natural” -- 31 percent
  • “All natural ingredients” -- 25 percent
  • “100% organic” -- 14 percent
  • “Certified organic ingredients” -- 12 percent

“Many consumers do not understand green terminology,” said Suzanne Shelton, whose firm, the Shelton Group, conducted the national survey. “They prefer the word ‘natural’ over the term ‘organic,’ thinking organic is more of an unregulated marketing buzzword that means the product is more expensive. In reality, the opposite is true: ‘Natural’ is the unregulated word. Organic foods must meet government standards to be certified as such.”

The survey found most Americans (60 percent) are looking for greener products.

“Green has officially gone mainstream,” Shelton said. “It’s no longer the stereotypical granola crunching tree huggers who want green products. It’s everyday Americans.”

But there’s a lot of confusion. When asked, "How do you know a product is green?" the top responses reflected the belief that it’s difficult to really know:

  • Don't know/Not sure -- 22 percent
  • Says so on the package/label -- 20 percent
  • Read label/Ingredients -- 15 percent
  • Environmentally safe/friendly -- 13 percent

“People are uncertain what to trust, so there's almost a ‘buyer beware’ attitude in the market, with consumers feeling they have to rely primarily on what they can read on the label,” Shelton said. “Consumers want a trusted source for accreditation, one that is simple to understand.

“That’s why appliances with the ENERGY STAR® certificate are so attractive,” Shelton added.

Trust is clearly an issue for consumers. The survey found they don’t exactly trust companies’ motives for going green. Asked, "Why do you think most companies that adopt environmentally-friendly practices do so?" one quarter of respondents chose "to make their company look better to the public" and only 7 percent chose "because their owners/shareholders care about the environment."

When asked what they would do if a company that makes one of their favorite products and had been advertising itself as green received a government fine for failing emissions standards or for polluting a nearby stream, 40 percent said they'd stop buying the product. More importantly, 36 percent would not only stop buying, they'd encourage friends not to buy the product.

“This is a clear message to corporate America: Don’t ‘greenwash,’” Shelton said. “There's more potential for backlash with a half-hearted green claim than there is for an increase in sales.”

You can learn more about the survey at


The survey, called Eco Pulse®, was conducted in April and May 2009, and yielded 1,006 complete responses, for a 3.09 percent margin of error.


Founded in 1991 by Suzanne Shelton, Shelton Group is an advertising agency located in Knoxville, Tennessee, focused exclusively on motivating mainstream consumers to make sustainable choices.


for Shelton Group
Mark Pankowski, 301-260-9250
Mittie Rooney, 301-229-1618


for Shelton Group
Mark Pankowski, 301-260-9250
Mittie Rooney, 301-229-1618