Are “environmental concerns” a concern for consumers? If so, when and why? These are the questions that trigger this research. At present, it appears that adequate measures and steps for protecting the environment are being taken by companies in order to survive [1
]. This has led to a “green” strategy adoption by companies. The range of products involved includes paper towels, cleaning products, light bulbs, makeup, and all those appliances that could offer “green” alternatives, reflecting the belief of organisations that green marketing helps improve the sale of products by labelling them differently, as well as sustainable for the environment. This also indicates that organisations are producing products that are sustainable for the environment with no harmful effect on their surroundings. The organisations need to consider and adopt procedures that are important for showcasing green philosophy because society and various types of stakeholder are concerned about global warming and its potential effect on the green environment [2
]. The organisations are using a green strategy by labelling products as recyclable or environmentally friendly, while some even opt for physically green packaging because the strategy has proved successful in attracting consumers. However, not all environmental claims by all companies are authentic, as some only intend to mislead consumers [3
]. This misleading phenomenon is regarded as greenwashing. It creates skepticism and confusion among consumers while, to a larger extent, eliminating the demand for innovative green products [4
]. Human consumption in both emerging and advanced economies has increased; therefore, the environmental consequences have grown, so products and companies must become greener and more environmentally responsible. Many organisations make claims of being environmentally friendly. Environmental claims are even made by those that are inherently not environmentally friendly, such as nonhybrid cars, plastic bottles, and airline flights [3
]. Often, some green advertisements convey complicated truths, which lack the necessary information regarding the genuine environmental aspects of their respective products [3
Environmentalists and scholars have stated that regulatory attempts are nonbinding guidelines that do not protect consumers adequately from the adverse effects of greenwashing [7
]. From the consumers’ perspective, it is worrisome that various environmental aspects of products, namely, sustainability, are not verifiable even when consuming products that falsely claim it [8
]. In fact, previous studies have shown that perceptions of greenwashing are linked with higher negative evaluations of brands and advertisements [10
], while evidence also proposed that consumers with higher expertise in environmental matters are not fully resistant to greenwashing in advertisements [12
]. This leads to questions such as whether consumers believe items are more sustainable with a greenwash label than those without one? Are consumers actually skeptical of the claims of greenwash labels and does this affect their purchase intentions? Are consumers aware of a product’s label being greenwashed?
Across the globe, there has been an enormous increase in private consumption [13
]. In the context of the considered economies, the private consumption of the UK accounted for 65%, Canada 67.9%, and Pakistan 82.1% of its nominal GDP in June 2019 [14
]. All three considered economies have been found to have had a higher private consumption rate in the last five years and continue with an unsustainable consumption rate that has an extreme consequence on the environment. With the magnitude of consumers increasing across the globe, there is more conscious awareness about environmental issues, which has led to claims of willingness to partake in sustainable consumption [1
]. This is the reason behind consumers’ attitudes, and why green products, green brands, and green organisations are so much in demand. From 2009, there has been a 51–59% increase in consumers who prefer to buy sustainably produced products [14
]. On a global platform, the concerns vary, as in Canada, 69% reported to care about the social responsibility of the organisation, in the UK, 70% agreed, while in the emerging economies like Brazil, Pakistan, and China, 85%, 74%, and 94% care about the social responsibility of companies, respectively [14
]. Consequently, higher green aspects of products are advertised.
However, the desire to be successful by means of creating appeal, and concern for the environment among consumers, lead to greenwashing. At times, companies use marketing and advertising strategies to claim they are green while they lack actual implementation of any practices that could reduce their adverse environmental impact. It is largely found that broad claims are made because it is not in the best interest of companies to reduce their low environmental performance or share such details with consumers [11
“The aim of this research is to identify the actual tendency of people claiming to be environmentally conscious in differentiating between sustainable and greenwashed products”. Hence, the objectives of the study include the following:
To evaluate to what degree environmentalists are more skeptical when identifying greenwashed products as non-sustainable.
To examine how a higher degree of green purchasing behaviour in comparison to the others (low and moderate green purchasing behaviour) means a higher tendency to restrain from using greenwashed products.
To assess false labels, irrelevant labels, and vague labels affecting consumers’ perception.
To examine greenwashing affecting purchase intent and green purchase behaviour.
3. Research Methodology
This cross-sectional study works on the proposed ARI model [3
] while primarily adopting Halverson’s strategy to investigate the perception of consumers regarding greenwashing [1
]. Generic products are commonly used by males and females while ensuring that the products could have green alternatives. Greenwashed products related attributes such as vagueness, false labels, and irrelevance are tested [45
]. The green purchase behaviour questions were adopted from earlier work [18
]. As a part of the study, the image of one item was without any label in order to have a controlled aspect within the study, while another three images on the item displayed, falseness, vagueness, advert irrelevance, following the strategy of earlier studies [1
]. The item contained a false claim to be “Certified Green Environmentally Conscious” while it was not true. The item reflected vagueness by giving a generic recycling label with no additional information, whereas the third item had irrelevance aspects that were not linked with the actual item inside. Building on the content and work of earlier studies, i.e., [1
], the researchers developed a questionnaire, which also reflected the content validity and reliability.
Along with the survey, the respondents were given a consent form to ensure they willingly participated in this study by filling in honestly the demographic questions along with various questions related to environmental lifestyle and outlook (See Appendix A Table A1
). Four groups were formed, and, at the start, participants were asked to choose one packaging item, namely Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta. Participants picked the item without knowing whether the packaging reflected falseness, vagueness, irrelevance or actual greenness. (a) Alpha group: represented a false label, (b) Bravo group: represented vagueness, (c) Charlie group: represented irrelevance, and (d) Delta group: represented green products. On reaching a certain quota in one group, it was then excluded from the survey set while others were given to participants to select from. The process proved lengthy but effective in ensuring all four groups had equal representation in the study. The questions included aspects related to attractiveness, sustainability, information, quality, trustworthiness, and the appeal of a product of being green and environmentally friendly affecting purchase intent. All four groups were later asked about how they viewed greenness, whether the label has or has not functioned as environmentally friendly, affecting their purchase intent.
Later all groups were given the description of greenwashing in general and the magnitude of the survey was such that the awareness could be tested. It was followed by questions related to the packaging they identified to see how they believed its greenwashing and debriefing them of the message of the item helped them identify how aware they were about various types of greenwashing.
Using Leblanc’s marginal error formula, the study found that 200 is a minimum sample size in a region. Within the scientific research, “margin of error” of ±3 is allowed only if there is a control overconfidence level and sample size [46
]. To a greater degree, the parameter of population (P
) affecting the value of prior judgement value (
) could not be controlled. Thus, the M.E Margin of Error formula is effective to attain the probable estimation of the population to draw sample size (M.E =
]. In social science research, up to ±4 could be used [47
]. This is social science research using a scientific approach, therefore, the margin of error is ±4, which means 0.04 for measuring the sample size with z
=1.96 for 95% confidence interval,
= prior judgement of the correct value of p
is estimated 0.1. Since there is no sample framework therefore, we assume 10% to be the minimum targeted population in the targeted region.
Thus, by using this formula, the minimum sample required is 215, so the study ensured more responses were attained than the derived value. A stratum was formed by ensuring that at least over 215 was attained each from all considered countries (strata). The stratum was used for case location so that there was equal representation in both countries. Hence, the strata were formed but the collection of the survey from the participants was done through convenient sampling strategy. In other words, the strata were formed to identify the representative sample while convenience sampling was used for gathering data from the respondents. The number of studies concluded that over 200 is a sufficient sample size to draw a logical conclusion [49
]. In the cross-sectional comparative studies, there is a pattern to ensure fair representation is made about distinctive regions in order to have broader generalization as well as a logical conclusion [50
]. Since the research focuses on the attainment of a global perspective, consumers from the UK, Canada, and Pakistan were targeted. A plethora of research has confirmed that a comparative strategy is effective in attaining global perspective; Haque Nair Kuckultan [51
], Haque et al. [53
], Kot et al. [50
], and Kot et al. [54
]. Hence, the authors employed the same comparative strategy to attain a global perspective. For equal and fair representation in all selected regions, the authors used the convenience and purposive sampling technique because it is effective when the randomization of the sample is impractical and costly when the sampling framework is missing so the intention was to have a fair representation of the sample in the region. As a result, eventually, the study reached a total of 768 (256 each in the UK, Canada, and Pakistan). The authors used manual circulation of the survey among respondents; therefore, the second lead researcher travelled to all three regions with the packaging materials in all three countries and personally conducted the survey. The connections and referrals were used to attain the consent of different authorities to commence a survey.
The use of the existing survey instrument was to ensure the content and face-value validity and reliability of the instrument. Nevertheless, it was further checked by using a statistical tool to ensure that internal and external validity was further obtained because, in the case of using the non- probability sampling technique, there is a chance of validity issues. Hence, it is an effective method to ensure validity from internal as well as external aspects.
For data analysis, the researchers used the Chi-Square test for ranked data namely, environmentalists and green purchasers while for the degree-based responses, smartPLS 3.2.8 software was employed to validate the partial least square structural equation modeling (PLS-SEM) [55
]. “The PLS-SEM was evaluated into a two-step approach such as the measurement model and structural model” [56
]. The reason for preferring the Chi-Square test is because the questionnaire was designed with the intent to rank the degree of environmentalists by means of categorizing them as higher, moderate, and lower ones. Though, it is a debatable approach as respondents have categorized themselves, it could be possible that it is rather more perception reported than actuality. Nevertheless, social sciences studies hold always a subjective view. Following the strategy of Pallant [57
], the authors employed a rank scale by asking participants to select the option of how they see themselves. Thus, it could be more of perception rather than actuality, but there is no certain way in any scale to know for sure if respondents are actually stating reality or mere perception.
The results showed that there is a statistically significant impact of false labelling on consumers’ perception. In other words, consumers’ perception is not affected by a false label as they are unable to distinguish a false label product despite being skeptical of greenwashing. The participants’ perception remains the same despite the product claims being false therefore to larger extent finding supports the earlier studies of Halverson [1
], Schmuck et al. [3
], Leonidou & Skarmeas [20
], and Krafft [35
]. Moreover, the study found that irrelevant labelling has a statistically significant impact on the perception of consumers in all three considered countries, which means that the present findings are aligned with the previous work of Halverson [1
], Leonidou & Skarmeas [20
], Parguel et al. [32
], and Krafft [35
]. In other words, the perception of the consumers is reported to remain the same despite the product claims being irrelevant. It also reflects that irrespective of the type of country, the consumers, in general, still tend to buy and consume products having irrelevant information. Even, if consumers are skeptical about such information, they would still fall into the trap of consuming. There is also evidence that they perceived greenwashed products to be sustainable, because, despite some irrelevant information, they still view them as overall sustainable products. In fact, the skeptical and high environmentalists were also unable to distinguish greenwashing (irrelevant labelling) when asked about it. As a result, the present finding confirmed that skeptical consumers are unable to distinguish greenwashing (irrelevant labelling attribute), therefore the findings are aligned with the work of earlier studies of Halverson [1
], Schmuck et al. [3
], Nyilasy et al. [11
], Chan [18
], and Krafft [35
] while contradicting the findings of Leonidou and Skarmeas [34
]. On the other hand, the study also found that high environmentalists more often perceive greenwashing as sustainable products, therefore in this regard, the present study contradicts the work of Nyilasy et al. [11
], Chan [18
], and Brouwer [33
Moreover, the study found a statistically significant impact of vagueness on the perception of the consumers. In other words, the consumers’ perception is not affected differently, even if the products have vague features in the details. Trust is found to be an issue among the consumers and despite being skeptical, they are still able to trust some features of the greenwashed products [33
]. This is to some extent, confirmed by the present findings. The lake of awareness is a reason behind opting to use a greenwashed product [33
]. This is contradicted. On the other hand, the fact that consumers are unable to identify greenwashed products as being deceptive [10
], is supported by the present study. Despite being skeptical, consumers consider greenwashed products as being environmentally friendly and sustainable [1
]. This notion is supported by the present study. Although consumers are skeptical and aware, they opt to consume such products. Thus, the study partially differs from the work of earlier studies [11
], because earlier studies found a lack of awareness as a reason for consuming greenwashed products. This study supports the findings of Terra Choice [16
] while contradicts the work of Nyilasy et al. [11
] that consumers’ perception tends to improve on being skeptical about greenwashing.
The study further found that the purchase intent of the consumers is not affected differently by greenwashed products. It was found that irrespective of greenwashing, even if identified by the consumers they still opt to buy the greenwashing product. In fact, it could be argued that greenwashing might perhaps not alter the intent negatively, but once the consumers are exposed to such greenwashed products, they are more likely to buy it. After exposure to a greenwashed advertisement there are likely chances that consumers would buy the product more often [35
], which is a notion supported by this study findings. Interestingly, the study opposed the notion that highly environmentally conscious individuals would be able to identify and recognize greenwashed products as less sustainable and avoid using them [10
]. The study opposed this argument because those who considered themselves high environmentalist were still using the greenwashed products, and surprisingly, using more often than low and moderate environmentalists. Furthermore, the study found that greenwashing does negatively affect green purchasing behaviour. This reflects that the consumers who identified themselves as green purchases to any degree reported that their green purchase behaviour is negatively affected by such greenwashed products. As a result, they become more skeptical of all types of products, yet, they have not much intent to further explore and therefore consume greenwashed products on viewing that some aspects might be sustainable. It has been proved that the greenwashed products directly and negatively affect the green purchase behaviour of consumers.
This study found that subjective knowledge about false claims is not sufficient to detect claims. Therefore, the study is aligned with the argument of references [3
]. This study to a more significant extent is aligned with previous work [11
] by confirming that the green purchase behaviour tends to be negatively affected by greenwashing. In the light of the ARI model, it was proved that the underlying rational and affective mechanisms of the consumers are activated after seeing greenwashing products but are unable to restrain themselves from using them. Furthermore, greenwashing products activate an affective persuasive mechanism of the consumers, not only is the evaluation positive even if they identify the greenwashing attributes, yet they more strongly use the products, so the attitudinal appeal further drives them to use the product. Thus, the present work partially supports the work of the earlier study [3
]. Nevertheless, that study was related to the greenwashing advertisement while here the study used the products to see if the visual in the adverts is more compelling or in actuality even after touching the product and using the description; they are still drawn towards using it. This is a new development in the studies related to greenwashing. The present findings indicate that greenwashing products are perceived as sustainable by consumers across all three countries. The cognition and effect are found to be qualitative and varying but the concurrent persuasive mechanism of the consumers drives them to perceive and view things in a specific manner. The positive impact of effect and positive impact of rational cognition simultaneously influence the attitude of the consumers [3
], the postulate is confirmed through the present findings. The consumers’ response is influenced through labels rather than advertisements, which is a new finding and contradicts the postulate of the ARI model [3
]. The emotional persuasion is found to be more syncretic cognition than rational persuasion; therefore, this study partially supports the argument of Petty and Cacioppo [41
The awareness, trust, and effectiveness of consumers are largely affected by the greenwashing products. The overall conclusion can be drawn that all other participants have high perceptions for sustainable products even if the product has been labelled correctly or not. The present study used a ranking scale to determine the degree of environmental consciousness, and different participants viewed themselves as high, low, and moderate environmentalists. Results found High environmentalists being more skeptical than Low and Moderate environmentalists, are more likely to fall into the trap of identifying greenwashing products as sustainable. Participants reported that products are believed to be sustainable due to the overall perception that some features are at least sustainable of greenwashed products. It is further supported by the statistical evidence that purchase intent is not affected by greenwashing. It is therefore concluded that the label irrespective of being correct or not tends to affect the consumers’ perception. The results are found statistically significant in that false labels are useful in affecting the participants’ trust by making it more believable to be sustainable. More than vagueness and irrelevance, false labels have a stronger impact in affecting the overall perception of the consumers. Interestingly, false label products are found to be trustworthy enough compared to the irrelevant and vague labels, and, therefore, have a significant impact on product perceptions while no significant difference were found in purchasing intent across all labelled items. Moreover, no greenwashing attributes such as false labelling, irrelevance, and vagueness are statistically and significantly different from one another in affecting the purchase intent of the consumers. It means that all are equally significant in affecting the purchase intent.
It is also reported that younger people have less trust and often believe greenwashing is problematic in comparison to older people. Consumers were found to be vulnerable and more sensitive when their attention was drawn towards greenwashing. There is a need for educating consumers and improving the policies to ensure consumers recognize real labels when using greenwashing products in daily life. It has also been substantiated that greenwashing creates a negative impact on green purchase behaviour, which means that sustainable aspects along with the environment of operations, are likely to be affected adversely.
7. Limitations and Future Directions
The limitation of this research includes the use of a categorical scale for measuring the degree of environmentalists and green purchasing. It would be interesting that future studies consider classification through a latent variable with a scale where individuals could express to what extent, they identify themselves with different aspects reflecting the trait of environmentally friendly and green purchasing. Future studies should consider a continuous scale to measure the magnitude. Similarly, the use of the Chi-Square test only revealed the general test results of three categorized groups as high, moderate, and low environmentalists and green purchasers but it limits us in finding whether exactly the differences between these groups are more prominent or less. The future studies should consider this aspect by comparing the three groups such as high vs moderate, high vs low, and moderate vs low. The future studies should consider the residuals of each crossing to gain further insight into the significant differences between categorized groups. Furthermore, the environmentalism perhaps could have been measured through a degree scale rather than categorizing it through a ranked scale. This way, it could have been effective in finding actual opinion rather than perceptions. Nevertheless, with the available resources, the adopted technique was more suitable for the present case at hand. The sample is another limitation of this study. It would be interesting if future studies consider the people profile by exploring the green consumers who do not opt to go to shopping malls. The present sample provides a generalized view, whereas profile consideration by investigating the research phenomenon from the total green individuals who do not go to shopping malls could provide more specific results.
Life and research are a long learning process, and we learn from our mistakes so we can improve in future approaches. Therefore, we learn that the exclusion of some key authors might have limited our findings to a certain extent. In addition to that, we used particular literature for questionnaire development at the expense of some key literature. Perhaps, higher credibility can be attained if empirical studies [28
] are considered. Thus, we see that in this article, there are some methodological challenges and this study recommends that future researches consider those unused studies. Perhaps, they might come up with something different with exciting results. Future research must consider more strategic approaches by using validated literature to develop the variables of interest. This study explored the global perspective but did not opt to include the measurement invariance comparison test to assess whether the structural model in the three samples s directly comparable or not. It is a limitation and we proposed that future studies should consider the use of the measurement invariance comparison test to assess if the samples are directly comparable or not. Our focus was on the global perspective while considering categorical data as well as ordinal data; hence we did not consider using direct comparison of the samples through structural modelling. By considering this suggestion, future studies perhaps might discover some interesting findings through direct comparison.