But consumers are confused about what "green" really means, according to research led by WPP Group's Landor Associates that indicates marketers can convince consumers their brands are saving the planet without having to deliver too much.
In an online survey, 1,525 U.K. consumers voted supermarkets, oil companies, automakers and an airline among their top 20 "green brands."
Phil Gandy, planning director of Landor Associates, said, "It is clear that being green means different things to different people. There is a general awareness of an urgent problem, but consumers have not yet come to the view that they need to address their consumption. It seems that most of us are still thinking in terms of throwing away less rather than consuming less."
In the survey, 23% of respondents could not identify any steps a company should take to make itself green.
The Body Shop was voted No. 1 green brand in the U.K., but that may be due more to the color of its shops and rugged packaging than its pioneering track record.
"We have been working hard on the green front for many years: campaigning with Greenpeace on climate change, switching over most of our stores to run on renewable energy and then using recyclate in our make-up packaging last year," said Jan Buckingham, global values director of Body Shop U.K.
More green for green
Companies that promote themselves as green or ethically concerned can reap substantial rewards. Green brands are perceived as higher quality, and consumers are prepared to pay a premium. Six out of 10 said they would pay more for energy-saving household appliances.
Tesco long has been a target for environmental activists because of its aggressive expansion and treatment of suppliers. Yet consumers ranked the U.K.'s biggest supermarket chain as the fifth-greenest brand. Tesco's well-publicized promotion encouraging bag recycling has paid dividends.
BP is No. 9 on the list. The oil company's "Beyond Petroleum" tagline apparently has won over consumers.
"The important thing is that we are trying to engage in society's concerns," a BP spokesman said. "We are part of the problem and part of the solution."
|Source: Online survey by Landor Associates of 1,525 U.K. consumers|
A BP insider, however, said he thinks the "Beyond Petroleum" line has been "conveniently misinterpreted" as a "green" message. The company defines the phrase as a reference to BP's breadth of offerings, but the sunflower logo and the warm green color subtly suggest environmental sensibilities.
Virgin Atlantic was the only airline among the U.K.'s top 20 green brands. Director of Communications Paul Charles said Virgin has put its "green" message across consistently and actively since last summer.
"We set out our stall early and clearly admit airlines' contribution to global warming," he said. Virgin Atlantic tows planes to the runway and has invested in more-efficient new "Dreamliner" planes.
"Just how consumers judge the greenness of brands is a complex mixture of perception and reality," Mr. Gandy said. "Being seen to be ethically concerned is important, but just being 'modern and likeable' -- like Virgin or Google -- can be enough to bestow a powerful green halo effect."