Avoid Greenwashing in Marketing

Greenwashing on Page with Globe

The European Parliament recently announced new legislation to prevent so-called greenwashing.

Some of the key points of this legislation ask businesses to avoid the following:

  • Generic environmental claims, e.g. “environmentally friendly”, “natural”,  or “biodegradable”, without proof relevant to the claim.
  • Claims based on emissions offsetting schemes.
  • Sustainability labels not based on approved certification schemes.
  • Durability claims in terms of usage time or intensity under normal conditions, if not proven.
  • Presenting software updates as necessary even if they only enhance functionality features.
  • Presenting goods as repairable when they are not.

With World Earth Day happening this month (April 22nd) we delve into some practices that can help us prevent greenwashing in our marketing practices.

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to a type of marketing which is designed to make products more appealing for eco-conscious consumers.

Although it may not always be intentionally malicious, greenwashing can lead to miscommunication and consumers trusting a brand which they may not actually be ethically aligned with.

How to Avoid Greenwashing in Your Marketing and Communications?

Be Transparent

Be honest about your sustainability goals and impact to avoid making false claims on your sustainable efforts.

If you’re unsure about a claim or statistic, it’s best not to include it in your marketing and communications.

Clearly disclose evidence of your sustainability claims – whether that is your supply chain, independent certificates (from third-party auditors), or reports.

Be Realistic

Avoid making assumptions and elaborate claims.

For example:

If you plan to reduce carbon emission by 15% by the end of 2025, state that clearly: e.g. By the end of 2025 we aim to reduce our carbon emissions by 15%.

Rather than. ‘In our efforts to become carbon neutral, emissions will be significantly reduced by 2025’ – this is a misleading claim.

Don’t Cherry-Pick Data

It can be very tempting to highlight statistics that make your sustainable efforts more impressive.

However, don’t ignore other statistics they may not be as impressive. Be transparent and acknowledge these stats – while laying out your plan to improve them.

Set Goals

“What gets measured gets managed.”

Set goals for your company and work towards these in steps – which you can show your audience along the way to involve them in your sustainable journey.

Since you are doing the work, let it be part of your story.

Start by identifying low-hanging fruit – initiatives that are easy to implement and may not cost much (if anything) to implement. For example, changing parts of your product to recyclable.

You may also be surprised how many new market opportunities arise by making these sustainable changes!

Be Brand Aware

Some companies use rebranding as a greenwashing tactic – relaunching as an ‘eco’ brand or simply changing their packaging to come across as more sustainable.

By using the colour green and using eco buzzwords, brands depend on consumers subconscious to align the brand as sustainable.

Be aware of your branding and the language you choose to market your product and services.

Report Accurately

Back up sustainability claims with evidence.

Greenwashing typically uses language, not numbers. Genuine sustainable practices will have the data and metrics to back up claims.

Consumers can see through ‘wishy-washy’ language such as ‘powered by nature’ compared to ‘95% of our power comes from renewable energy”.

Get Help

There are so many resources available to companies now to guide sustainable practices.

While most require monetary and time investment, the return will be worth it to be independently certified by a recognisable company and give your consumers an assurance that you are indeed following sustainable practices, and not just saying that you are.

Avoid Greenwashing by Association

A brand can align themselves with other brands known for their sustainability efforts – with the aim of improving their own sustainable image. Subconsciously, consumers will associate the brand as being aligned with boarder environmental movements, even if they lack genuine sustainable efforts.

To avoid greenwashing by association, be transparent about all aspects of your product’s environmental impact.

Be Specific

Avoid using vague or ambiguous language that could easily be misunderstood or confuse your consumers.

Use metrics that are precise and measurable and avoid implying that you are greener than you are to mislead your audience.

Be Brand Consistent

Align your sustainable claims with your overall business strategy and values. Ensure that these claims are indeed your actual performance, and that they are supported by your actions.

Consistency will help you:

  • Avoid making contradictory claims that undermine your credibility.
  • Avoid hypocrisy.
  • Avoid greenwashing by omission.
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