Our latest report, The Buzz on Buzzwords, found that builders and manufacturers should use green jargon carefully. 

Polling 2,000 American consumers, the Shelton Group tested perceptions of 11 common green buzzwords used to market products and services, including words like “low VOC” and “net zero.” Some terms were consumer favorites and others were total turnoffs – so make sure you aren't using them to market you homes.

One of the biggest findings? Green has made the shift from fringe idea to mainstream value—62% of respondents think of the word “green” as positive, and 62% say that climate change is happening and is caused by humans. So there’s no need to shy away from talking directly about the environmental benefits of building products and green homes.

But when it comes to product-specific jargon, it’s best to use caution, simply because consumers don’t always connect the dots between buzzwords and benefits. For example, here’s a quick glance at the findings for low VOC and net zero:

- Few respondents knew that net-zero homes have benefits beyond lower energy bills – and 30% didn’t even expect lower energy bills.

- Only 30% of consumers said they understood what net zero meant before they were offered a definition.

- 43% said net zero was undesirable, and we think its because consumers really don’t have a clear picture of what makes a net-zero home worth buying. (But that doesn’t mean consumers don’t want what builders are selling.)

- Lots of paint companies now tout their low-VOC paint, but low-VOC was the only term of the 11 we tested that actually suffered from majority disapproval (54% found the term undesirable).

- Only 21% said they understood what low VOC meant and the majority remained on the fence (67% rated their understanding in neutral territory); and 12% owned up to having no clue.

- But when we asked a much simpler question that didn’t refer to VOCs at all, we got much clearer (and more positive) results: 66% of them are at least moderately concerned about their indoor air quality. So when you talk about low VOC, you think you’re leveraging a feature of a healthy home, yet really you’re confusing or turning away your customers.

The free report includes in-depth findings for nine other terms. Download it here.