'Best' Green Brands List Implies That Greenwash Works

Green Ort Brand painting graphic

Car makers do well in the public's perception of green companies. Illustration by wallygrom (busy at work) via flickr and Creative Commons.
Interbrand has come out with their list of the world's 'best' or top 50 green brands. And as they say in their report analysis, "a number of brands on the Best Global Green Brands table show large gaps between performance and perception."
Of course, methodology is important, as is who is doing the report. Interbrand is the world's largest brand consulting firm, working with internationally known Fortune 500 companies, helping them develop sustainability strategies.

In addition, Interbrand only puts on to its Green Brands list companies whose names are synonymous with their brands - Coca-Cola and Toyota yes, but Louis Vuitton and Gucci no, as those brands are owned by larger conglomerates LVMH, and for Gucci, PPR.

For the ranking, Interbrand combines the public's perception of environmental sustainability ("green") performance, with actual performance.

That means, Interbrand says, the "strongest" green brands appear to reside at the intersection of performance and perception.

Here are the top ten greenest brands:

1 Toyota
2 3M
3 Siemens
4 Johnson & Johnson
5 HP
6 VW
7 Honda
8 Dell
9 Cisco
10 Panasonic

What can we say about these winners? Well, possibly that they wouldn't have occurred to anyone when asked to name the 10 greenest brands in the world - although they should have, as they intersect in many cases with a U.S. ranking of the top greenest companies. Once you've read the list, however, (with the possible exception of Johnson & Johnson) you can pretty easily think of a environmental initiative or a green product the company has created.

However right beyond those top brands are a number of companies where there's a disjunction between the public's perception and actual green actions. For example, L'Oréal, Nokia, HSBC, all performed better (in both taking sustainability-oriented actions and in reporting such actions) that the public perceived them.

Conversely, McDonald's, GE, and Coca-Cola all scored significantly higher in people's perception of their green cred than in actual performance.

This is a bit disheartening, because it signifies that companies making some of the best efforts at being green, aren't necessarily perceived as doing so by the public.

And on the other hand GE, for example, probably gets a significant perception boost from its Ecoimagination efforts, though those may be more pretty window-dressing than truly systemic green action going on internally.

Interbrand itself says that people may perceive McDonald's as moving in a greener direction simply because the company has begun using the color green!

In other words, a bit of greenwash can work wonders for a brand.

A good that for consumers that also may affect who gets to the top of the list is transparency at giving out information. L'Oreal, according to Interbrand, is very transparent in reporting its environmental efforts, probably in response to shareholder concerns, which gives it a slightly better performance score. On the other is not great at trumpeting its achievements to the greater public.

Two additional factors affect who comes tops on the list. First, China and India, which can be classified as rapidly developing nations with inadequate environmental protections, have a number of brands that their mainstream publics perceives as quite green.

Conversely, top brands in countries where environmental regulations are strictest (Germany, Sweden), don't get such great perception scores - i.e. they may be doing the most action-wise, but they have to work a lot harder to get the public perception they deserve. And, to top it off, Interbrand says automobile companies generally score quite high in people's perceptions of greenness (versus actual performance), which is ironic, as cars at present are such a huge drag on our ability to actually create sustainable ways of living.

See the rest of the list here.

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Read more on green branding:
Transparency for Green Brands - to Biodegrade or Not
Can Green Companies Keep Their Soul When Sold?
Conference You Should Know About: Sustainable Brands 2008