Different Shades of Greenwashing: Consumers’ Reactions to Environmental Lies, Half-Lies, and Organizations Taking Credit for Following Legal Obligations

Menno D.T. de Jong*, Gabriel Huluba, Ardion D. Beldad

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Although corporate greenwashing is a widespread phenomenon, few studies have investigated its effects on consumers. In these studies, consumers were exposed to organizations that boldly lied about their green behaviors. Most greenwashing practices in real life, however, do not involve complete lies. This article describes a randomized 3 × 2 experimental study in the cruise industry investigating the effects of various degrees of greenwashing. Six experimental conditions were created based on behavioral-claim greenwashing (an organization telling the truth vs. its telling lies or half-lies) and motive greenwashing (an organization acting on its own initiative vs. its taking credit for following legal obligations). Dependent variables were three corporate reputation constructs: environmental performance, product and service quality, and financial performance. Compared to true green behavior, lies and half-lies had similar negative effects on reputation. Taking credit for following legal obligations had no main effect. Only in the case of true green behavior did undeservedly taking credit affect reputation negatively. Overall, the findings suggest that only true green behavior will have the desired positive effects on reputation.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of business and technical communication
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print/First online - 18 Sep 2019

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Keywords

  • Consumers
  • Corporate reputation
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Cruise industry
  • Environmental performance
  • Greenwashing

Cite this

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title = "Different Shades of Greenwashing: Consumers’ Reactions to Environmental Lies, Half-Lies, and Organizations Taking Credit for Following Legal Obligations",
abstract = "Although corporate greenwashing is a widespread phenomenon, few studies have investigated its effects on consumers. In these studies, consumers were exposed to organizations that boldly lied about their green behaviors. Most greenwashing practices in real life, however, do not involve complete lies. This article describes a randomized 3 × 2 experimental study in the cruise industry investigating the effects of various degrees of greenwashing. Six experimental conditions were created based on behavioral-claim greenwashing (an organization telling the truth vs. its telling lies or half-lies) and motive greenwashing (an organization acting on its own initiative vs. its taking credit for following legal obligations). Dependent variables were three corporate reputation constructs: environmental performance, product and service quality, and financial performance. Compared to true green behavior, lies and half-lies had similar negative effects on reputation. Taking credit for following legal obligations had no main effect. Only in the case of true green behavior did undeservedly taking credit affect reputation negatively. Overall, the findings suggest that only true green behavior will have the desired positive effects on reputation.",
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author = "{de Jong}, {Menno D.T.} and Gabriel Huluba and Beldad, {Ardion D.}",
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AU - Beldad, Ardion D.

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N2 - Although corporate greenwashing is a widespread phenomenon, few studies have investigated its effects on consumers. In these studies, consumers were exposed to organizations that boldly lied about their green behaviors. Most greenwashing practices in real life, however, do not involve complete lies. This article describes a randomized 3 × 2 experimental study in the cruise industry investigating the effects of various degrees of greenwashing. Six experimental conditions were created based on behavioral-claim greenwashing (an organization telling the truth vs. its telling lies or half-lies) and motive greenwashing (an organization acting on its own initiative vs. its taking credit for following legal obligations). Dependent variables were three corporate reputation constructs: environmental performance, product and service quality, and financial performance. Compared to true green behavior, lies and half-lies had similar negative effects on reputation. Taking credit for following legal obligations had no main effect. Only in the case of true green behavior did undeservedly taking credit affect reputation negatively. Overall, the findings suggest that only true green behavior will have the desired positive effects on reputation.

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