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The impact of greenwashing on consumers brand attitude.

Bladt, D. (2022) The impact of greenwashing on consumers brand attitude.

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Embargo date:27 January 2024
Abstract:As a result of increasingly sustainability-oriented markets and governments, greenwashing (GW) has become a widespread corporate practice throughout recent years. Besides harming the environment and consumers, GW also hurts sustainable companies by creating trust issues and general skepticism. Despite the undeniable nature of GW as a global economic problem, researchers  and practitioners  understanding of how GW influences consumers is still limited. The majority of existing studies view GW as a one-dimensional condition that represents all forms of corporate deception about environmental performance and either exists or does not exist. This prevalent concept of GW does not differentiate between varying forms of GW and assumes that consumers react the same way to different types of GW. Our study aims to test this common assumption and contribute to a better understanding of GW by asking the research question, “How do different greenwashing practices influence consumers  brand attitudes?”. To answer our research question, based on a review of existing classifications of GW, we introduce a two-dimensional typology of greenwashing practices (GWPs) that differentiates between the claim-type of a GWP (false, vague or hidden-information) and its macro-level of initiation (product-level and firm-level). With the help of this classification, we are able to differentiate between six distinct forms of GW. On the basis of this typology, we introduce 315 German participants to six different GW scenarios in an online survey and measure their resulting brand attitudes towards the respective companies. Our findings reveal that consumers react significantly different to most GWPs, depending on their claim-type and macro-level of initiation. While false GW has the most negative effect on consumers  brand attitude, hidden-information GW has a significantly less negative impact, and vague GW positively affects brand attitude in many cases. Firm-level GW affects brand attitude more negatively than product-level GW, except for the case of false claims. Our data suggest that the easier a GWP is recognizable as betrayal or lying by respondents, the more negatively it tends to affect their attitude towards the respective firm. However, our results also show that when a GWP is not recognized as deception, it can have strong positive effects on consumers  brand attitudes by suggesting a false image of sustainability. The main theoretical implication of our study is that greenwashing is a more nuanced and complex problem than the majority of existing studies assume, which is why future research is recommended to work with typologies that differentiate between different forms of GW. For companies, our findings particularly underline the danger and negative consequences of engaging in any type of communication that can be interpreted as false GW by consumers. To avoid the reputational damage related to GW, based on our findings, companies need to ensure that all environmental claims made by their marketing- and PR departments are transparent, specific and based on factual evidence. This type of claim management plays a critical role in communication because our results show that many consumers react stronger to the credibility- and type of claim that a company makes than to its actual environmental performance. Our findings indicate that from the perspective of consumers, GW is predominantly an issue of trust and ethics rather than environmental performance. For the German government and agency of consumer protection, our findings are alarming: The majority of our respondents react positively to vague GW and lack the knowledge and expertise to recognize vague- and hidden-information GW as the deceptive mechanisms that they are. To protect consumers from corporate deception and manipulation, stricter regulation of environmental claims or better information of consumers is needed.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:BMS: Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences
Subject:85 business administration, organizational science
Programme:Business Administration MSc (60644)
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