Public doubt about a broader corporate commitment to “going green” continues to run high, according to the third annual Gibbs & Soell Sense & Sustainability Study. Although only 21 percent of Americans believe the majority of businesses are making efforts toward sustainable development, that marks an increase in confidence as compared to the previous two years of research.

Despite their skepticism, the majority (71 percent) of consumers wants to know more about what companies are doing to become sustainable and green, and 75% feel the media are more likely to report on green business when the news is bad rather than good.

“Our study provides an unprecedented look at the sustainability dialogue between businesses and the general public by combining three years of attitudinal research among consumers and executives with media coverage analysis,” says Ron Loch, senior vice president and managing director, sustainability consulting, Gibbs & Soell.

“The results reveal growing efforts by business communicators in relating their corporate responsibility stories, but also underscore a deficit in general understanding and trust. It’s clear much more needs to be achieved in terms of relevant engagement with consumers and the media around corporate sustainability.”

Key findings include:
• The general public and business leaders remain skeptical of corporate America’s commitment to sustainability. Only 21 percent of U.S. adults and 25 percent of executives believe that a majority of businesses (“most,” “almost all,” or “all”) are committed to “going green”—defined as “improving the health of the environment by implementing more sustainable business practices and/or offering environmentally-friendly products or services.” However, this particular group of “confident consumers” has been on the rise over the past three years: 21 percent in 2012, 17 percent in 2011 and 16 percent in 2010.
• While one-third of executives report having no green steward, up from years past, there is a trend toward dedicated teams for those who do. This year’s results show that 34 percent of executives indicate there is no one at their company who is responsible for sustainability or “going green” initiatives, up from 25 percent in 2011. More than one out of five (21 percent) corporate leaders report there is a team of individuals whose jobs are specifically and solely dedicated to sustainability, up from 17 percent in 2011 and 13 percent in 2010.
• Despite their doubt, most U.S. adults and corporate executives have a strong interest in learning. The majority of consumers (71 percent) and executives (70 percent) express interest in learning what companies are doing in terms of sustainability and “going green.”
• Most consumers and business executives also believe corporate sustainability activities are more likely to be covered by the media when the news is bad than good. The number is comparatively higher among consumers who are confident in corporate America’s commitment to “going green.” Three-quarters (75 percent) of U.S. adults and 69 percent of executives feel the media are more likely to report on “bad news” than “good news” when covering how companies are addressing efforts to “go green.” Specifically among the 21 percent of consumers who believe “most,” “almost all,” or “all” companies are committed to “going green,” 83 percent feel there is a bias for bad news in the media.
• Newspapers dominate green news among mainstream media sources. However, most of the content originates from corporate-provided news releases. According to the media analysis performed by Cision Global Analysts, print and online versions of newspapers contributed the majority (83 percent) of analyzed media content published by major media. Original news reports represent only one-third (33 percent) of the content examined; the balance are news releases issued by businesses and other organizations.