Date of Conferral

2015

Degree

Ph.D.

School

Management

Advisor

David Gould

Abstract

Greenwashing means the advertisement of goods and services that are alleged to be of benefit to the environment, and is a phenomenon that persists as an advertising tactic in corporate marketing. Research has found that consumers are distrustful of greenwashing, as many claims of eco-friendly products have been shown to be false. This crisis of confidence recalls scandals of the past decade related to insider trading, price fixing, and lack of corporate social responsibility placing the brand equity of major corporations at risk. Given a limited understanding among corporate leaders of consumers' experiences with greenwashing, the purpose of this phenomenological study was to explore and describe the essence of these experiences. Research questions explored the phenomenon of greenwashing, informed by stakeholder theory, social identity theory, consumer culture theory, and the theory of corporate social responsibility. Interview questions were distributed to a purposeful, convenience sample of 20 research participants at a U.S. Military base in Germany. Interview data were collected via e-mail, transcribed, coded using open techniques, and analyzed to identify themes or patterns. Key themes included feelings of distrust in green advertising, indifference (business as usual), betrayal, and concern for the environment. Consumers also expressed a conscious awareness that educating themselves and exercising prudence when purchasing such goods and services is the best defense against greenwashing. The findings underscored the need for theorists of consumer culture and social identity to make trust a central topic when discussing consumers' identification with brands and products. The findings of this study may contribute to positive social change by educating consumers about greenwashing, which could help empower them to demand better environmental conduct from corporations.