Some 80% of Europeans are concerned by the environmental impact of their purchases but only one-quarter say they “often” buy green products, reveals the latest EU opinion poll.
A slim majority (54%) of the 25,000 respondents to the Eurobarometer report, released on Friday (5 July), say they "sometimes" buy environmentally-friendly products.
About half of Europeans would be willing to change their purchasing habits for environmental reasons but feel they lack information and distrust manufacturers’ green claims.
With environmentally-friendly products being generally more expensive, the issue remains over how to get consumers to go green.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik believes better labelling could help.
"Of course we all want to see more green products on shelves, but this survey shows that most of us are confused by green claims and don't trust them,” he said. “That's not good for consumers, and it is not rewarding those companies that are really making an effort.”
The European Commission’s environment directorate is developing a method of assessing a product’s environmental footprint based on a lifecycle assessment.
Adrian Harris, the head of Orgalime, the European engineering industry association, told EurActiv that the EU’s current Ecodesign label was sufficient and that new approaches could increase costs and complexity for consumers, with questionable benefits.
“We don’t want to introduce a wishy-washy concept, which is not useful for our industry, when we have a methodology which is defined, which has been tried and tested,” he said.
Three-quarters of respondents (77%) to the Eurostat report - carried out across social and demographic groups in all 28 EU countries - say that they would be willing to pay more for environmentally-friendly products if they were confident that the products were truly green.
ANEC, the European consumer interest group on standardisation, said: "We believe the survey confirms what is known regarding consumers being confused by the number of environmental claims that can be found on the EU market, as well as about their reliability and clarity.
"However ... labelling/product information is often not the right way forward to achieve sustainable consumption and should, on the contrary, be considered carefully. It has been shown that priority must be given to the establishment of regulatory product requirements - such as those we have in the Ecodesign, Energy Labelling Directives and the Ecolabel Regulation - ensuring that poor performing products are eliminated from the market.
"With regards to the high interest of consumers for green claims it needs to be noted that a survey often collects more idealistic than realistic replies, the actual behaviour of consumers in real life may differ greatly."
Sylvia Maurer, a safety and environment analyst at the European consumer organisation BEUC, said: “The survey supports our request that the EU should consider extending the guarantee period of products in order to increase the purchase of green products. 66% of respondents say that they are willing to pay more for a product if its guarantee was extended to five years. This is a route we urge policy-makers to take. It is in this respect encouraging that the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee wants to introduce a longer guarantee period at EU level and where appropriate align it with durability requirements set under Ecodesign rules.”
- 26 July 2013: Deadline for stakeholder applications to help develop sector-specific product environmental footprint rules
- 2014: Call for applications in food, feed and drinks sectors.