Environmental messaging is becoming increasingly common in the realm of consumer products. Plastic bottles scream "recycle me!", brown bags asked to be reused, and old electronics, donated. Companies claim their products are energy and water efficient, natural and safe. These messages, while certainly significant, may wrongfully assume that the customer is familiar with the underlying issues at stake. Do average consumers actually understand the issue of e-waste? Do they grasp the severity of worldwide water shortages? Are they aware of propensity of marine plastic pollution?
Unfortunately, the level of environmental literacy in this country is rather low (see this study on Americans' knowledge of climate change, for instance), so many consumers may lack a full understanding as to why they should recycle, donate, or even care about the environmental attributes of a particular product or company. Which raises the question: should companies educate consumers on the actual environmental issues associated with their products' manufacture, use and disposal?
Some forward-thinking companies have already put forth programs that aim to educate consumers in this capacity. For instance, Levis not only manufactures a jean using substantially less water, but also educates consumers as to why they should care about water conservation. The company encourages their customers to wash their jeans less and their website includes water saving tips and insight into the problem of water scarcity.
Other companies, such as The North Face, have also made it a priority to educate consumers about environmental issues and have teamed up with non-profits to do so. Protect Our Winters and the Alliance for Climate Education have partnered to create the program, "Hot Planet, Cool Athletes", which is generously funded by The North Face. This program sends professional winter sports athletes to high schools across the country to educate students on climate change.
Clearly, there is opportunity present for companies to engage with consumers on environmental issues. Those companies that have already considered the environment in their operations would certainly benefit from having a more informed consumer base that understands and values the importance of such efforts.