Perceived Greenwashing: The Effects of Green Marketing on Environmental and Product Perceptions

Abstract

Many firms are striving to improve their environmental positions by presenting their environmental efforts to the public. To do so, they are applying green marketing strategies to help gain competitive advantage and appeal to ecologically conscious consumers. However, not all green marketing claims accurately reflect firms’ environmental conduct, and can be viewed as ‘greenwashing’. Greenwashing may not only affect a company’s profitability, but more importantly, result in ethical harm. Therefore, this research extends past greenwashing studies by examining additional influences on and outcomes of perceived greenwashing. To do so, we conducted two studies, an interview study with consumer product and consulting firms, as well as an experiment examining consumers interacting with a company website. For these studies, we used multiple methods, including interviews, questionnaires, and neurophysiological techniques. We found that perceived greenwashing relates not only to environmental and product perceptions, but also to consumers’ happiness while interacting with the website. We also found that website interactivity relates to perceived greenwashing, environmental and product perceptions, and to the amount of interaction with the website. We conclude by discussing managerial and ethical implications for research and practice.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    Simula et al. (2009) developed a related ‘green matrix’ in which they compared consumers’ perceived greenness of products (rather than green marketing, as in our figure) to actual product greenness.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Allison Goebel for her comments on an earlier version, Akhil Sivanandan from Green Story for his research support, and Ritu Sikka and Farzam Boroomand for their research assistance. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided financial support.

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Appendix

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Lab Design with neurophysiological data capture.

1. Lab rooms

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2 Computers

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Szabo, S., Webster, J. Perceived Greenwashing: The Effects of Green Marketing on Environmental and Product Perceptions. J Bus Ethics 171, 719–739 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-020-04461-0

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Keywords

  • Environmental sustainability
  • Website design
  • Interactivity
  • Green value
  • Green risk
  • Purchase intentions
  • Brand attitudes
  • Facial expressions
  • Mouse interactions