In an era where the buzzword sustainability is trending, there has simultaneously been a rise in greenwashing, the practice of marketing your product or service as more green than it actually is. Examples include vaguely labeling products as “eco-friendly” or “all-natural.”
Consumers are beginning to pick up on the false marketing and it’s leading to bad publicity and a loss of trust among consumers. With an increasingly aware and environmentally-conscious consumer population, it is imperative that businesses avoid greenwashing practices.
In this article, we’ll discuss what greenwashing is in more detail and tips for how your business can avoid it.
What is Greenwashing?
Investopedia defines ‘greenwashing’ as the process of providing unsubstantiated and misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally friendly.
While part of their claims may be true, companies who engage in greenwashing often exaggerate these claims. Not only do these claims mislead consumers but they are also harmful to the environment. Especially since the product, at the end of the day, is still not environmentally-friendly, socially conscious or using the triple bottom line strategy.
For example, a company might claim its product is made from recycled materials. In reality, this could just mean that they changed their outside packaging from plastic to cardboard. However, the product on the inside might still be individually wrapped in unrecyclable plastic film and use questionable supply chain practices.
As consumers become more aware of greenwashing, it’s important for companies to avoid this practice to prevent losing the trust of their customers. Keep reading to find out 4 tips on how companies can avoid greenwashing.
4 Ways to Avoid Greenwashing
1. Be Honest
While this might sound like a rather obvious tip, it’s one of the most important ones that is often ignored. The main reason most companies are being accused of greenwashing today is due to a lack of honesty.
If your product or company isn’t 100% green, then be honest about it. Consumers understand that the process of becoming sustainable will not happen overnight for companies. So, there is no point making it seem like you did.
It’s better to be honest about where you are in the journey and what progress you’ve made so far. Make sure to state your green claims and goals as they are instead of exaggerating them.
2. Use Specific Metrics
When it comes to corporate greenwashing, as mentioned earlier, a common technique is using vague language with buzzwords without much information to back up claims. This can include a company saying “we are a sustainable company” or “we use all-natural products.” However, there is no supporting information to back up these claims. Stating that they use all-natural products could just mean that one out of their 50 ingredients are natural.
As consumers start to pick up on the use of vague, exaggerated sustainability statements, it is important for companies to use specific numbers and metrics. Putting numbers with your goals can clarify your progress to stakeholders and show your customers that you aren’t just making up your green claims.
For example, you could state that your company has “reduced its waste by 15% through a new reduce-reuse-recycle initiative” or “switched 10% of products to fully recyclable packaging.”
Of course, the first tip of being honest with your claims still applies here. Share your comparison data even if they are less than stellar. If this is your company’s first year towards making sustainable changes, then you’re not gonna have comparison metrics to state. In this case, you can be specific with your goals instead. For example, your company could have a goal of making sure 100% of the cotton used in production are from certified sources (pay a fair wage to workers, use less water and energy to produce) by the year 2030.
3. Focus on the Journey & Keep Reporting
Becoming a sustainable business is a journey. It’s a process. Understand this and emphasize it in your marketing.
Acknowledge where your company’s practices might not be environmentally friendly and commit to improving in those areas.
Keep customers up to date by reporting your progress every quarter or every year. Highlight the progress you’ve made so far and your plan forward. Being honest about where you are in the journey and your progress is more believable for customers. This way, you can also gain their trust.
4. Verify with 3rd Party or an Internal Team
It always helps to have another set of eyes take a look at any data and verify. This can be done either with an internal team that wasn’t involved in the original process or a 3rd party. Outside business certifications are a good way to verify sustainability claims such as Fairtrade, USDA Organic, or B Corporation certification.
They can help you by looking at your claims and data, asking possible questions that may arise from a customer point of view. Members of the internal review team or a 3rd party come in with different perspectives, backgrounds, and experiences. They might be able to point out any holes in the data or claims that the original team might have overlooked but that customers might bring up.
How Your Business Can Avoid Greenwashing
Are you looking to avoid greenwashing while marketing your sustainable product or business? Our team of marketing and branding experts are here to help! Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
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