Americans still wary of ‘greenwashing’, including organic labels: Harris Poll


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Americans still wary of ‘greenwashing’, including organic labels: Harris Poll
Concern for the environment may be increasing among Americans, but suspicion of corporate ‘greenwashing’ may be slowing their willingness to pay extra for ‘green’ products, including organic, suggests a new survey of 2,276 adults.

According to a March 2013 Harris Poll, almost 60% of respondents agreed that labeling food or other products as organic is just an excuse to charge more.

"What surprised us most was that while Americans are showing more concern for the environment, they aren't necessarily willing to pay more to do anything about it,"​ said Mike de Vere, President of the Harris Poll.

"While Americans feel better about the economy, many are wary of the 'greenwashing' concept that gives companies a chance to cash in on consumers who want to help the planet but are confused by all the eco-friendly jargon."   

‘A labeling term’

According to the National Organic Program (NOP) newsletter from the USDA, the market for organic commodities has grown in recent years, but still remains a relatively small segment of the total food market.

The MOP defines organic as: “a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.”

US exports of 23 organic commodities increased by 8% in 2012 to $446 million.

Delicious and​ nutritious?

While the respondents expressed concerns about ‘greenwashing’, more than half (55%) said they believe that organic foods are healthier than non-organic.

This is contrary to findings of a review last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine​ of more than 200 published nutrient analysis studies and human trials, which found that there is generally no difference in nutritional value or risk for bacterial contamination between organic and conventional foods.

Forty one of the respondents did think organic food tasted better and/or fresher than non-organic.  

The survey data did indicate a disconnect between environmental concerns and willingness to pay extra money for such products. Indeed, 80% said they seek out green products, but only 30% said they were willing to pay extra.

The greatest skepticism about organic came from men, with 63% agreeing that the labeling of food or other products as organic is an excuse to charge more, versus 54% of women.


Despite the ‘glass half empty’ view of respondents of the Harris Poll, the organic industry itself is in bullish mood. George Siemon, CEO of Organic Valley, recently told us​ that he foresees a healthy rate for the organic sector.

“Historically things have happened ‘organically ‘and the supply has kept with demand one way or the other. Right now the growth of organic dairy is being held back by the lack of supply of feed.

“I think it’s realistic that we are going to see a 10% growth rate.  Certainly if we were like Europe and we were in a more supportive government environment we could grow faster. But a 10% growth rate is a healthy growth rate and that means the organic sector will double in 10 to 12 years,”​ he said.

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