As everyone becomes more aware of their everyday choices' impact on the environment from their clothes, the coffee they drink, their breakfast, and the places they shop, our favourite brands and businesses are making sure to cater to a change in consumer habits.
While this sounds great and shows massive progression for many companies, it's important to be aware of those businesses that have put up a sustainable facade. These companies talk about their eco-friendly practices but still participate in environmentally damaging activities - also known as greenwashing.
April has been Earth Month and many companies have been talking about their own sustainability practices and what they are doing to help the environment. So it’s important to know exactly what greenwashing is, if your choice of brand is guilty of it, and if you’re promoting your own sustainability strategy, how to avoid doing it.
In some cases, greenwashing is a form of false advertising or a marketing ploy. Sadly, in this case, it is likely that the company will spend more money talking about their sustainable prose than physically being more environmentally conscious. The actual definition of greenwashing is: “disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”
Businesses are aware that 1 in 3 consumers stop purchasing certain products or particular brands due to sustainability and ethical concerns. Research into Gen Z’s spending characteristics found that they are more likely to spend money on ethical companies. So appearing to be a more eco-conscious and sustainable business is a financial incentive.
For this reason, environmentalist Jay Westerveld originally coined the term greenwashing. During his stay at a hotel, he found that the hotel claimed not to be washing towels daily due to the impact on the environment and not wanting to waste any water. However, he noticed there was no other sustainable effort. He saw a considerable amount of waste in other areas of the hotel. He claimed that the hotel was trying to reduce costs by not having to wash towels but marketing it as being 'eco-friendly'.
Some examples of this include Mcdonald's, which introduced paper straws, claiming to be better for the environment than their original plastic straws. However, those straws weren't recyclable and still resulted in extra plastic pollution, making their sustainability claims invalid.
Innocent Smoothies were called out for Greenwashing by Plastic Rebellion for their television adverts this year. Their recent adverts with cartoon animals singing about recycling contradicted their usage of single-use plastics. ASA banned the adverts shortly after Plastic Rebellion made the claims.
While greenwashing does carry negative connotations, not all companies who are found guilty of greenwashing do it maliciously. Many don't know that they are doing it. Through lack of understanding, expertise and research into supply chains, businesses with good intentions have fallen to greenwashing claims.
It only takes a slight misunderstanding between your product and marketing teams. Full clarity on how your product is sourced, made and disposed of is critical to avoid unintentional greenwashing such as incorrectly using words such as 'organic', 'free-from', and 'bio-degradable'.
Due to the ease of falling into the greenwashing hole, you should consider marketing products, programmes, and services and proactively look for greenwashing in any public-facing content produced.
Is your branding correct? You must be able to justify your branding and your choice of wording. Don't make your branding 'greener' if you haven't made 'greener' changes to your product. This can be seen with Coca-Cola Life. A green label was added to appear healthier and better for you. Still, it contained 6.6% sugar, no more nutritious than the original red-labelled Coke.
Is your claim vague or out of context? Make sure you are clear about all of your sustainable claims. It's unethical to claim you've reduced your carbon footprint if you have done so by outsourcing it to other areas in the world. An example of this is Windex, which claimed that its bottles were made out of 100% 'ocean plastic'. This wasn't exactly true. When you zoomed out of their marketing and into their processes, the plastic used to make their bottles was sourced from plastic banks in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Haiti. None of which had been in the ocean but may have ended up there in the future.
Define your terminology. If you're using words like biodegradable, organic, eco-friendly or natural, make sure you explain what you mean and don't be vague.If your product is eco-friendly and you’re promoting it as so, make sure you tell your customers why. Is it produced from organic or upcyled materials, is it produced in a solar-powered factory? Give them specifics rather than broad, unclear terms.?
Where are you talking about your stance on sustainability? If you're doing great things to make your business and your products more sustainable, that's great, and of course, you want to market that. There's nothing wrong with advertising and telling people what you are doing to be more environmentally friendly, but make sure you back this up on your website too. Ensure that anyone who wants to fact-check your claims can find more information and links on your website. Be a hub of information, not just a sales board.
Sustainability is an essential but complex subject to approach. When we talk about what we are doing as a company to help the environment, we have to ensure we are transparent and precise. A greenwashing accusation is damaging to your reputation and finances.
Thankfully, more people are becoming aware of greenwashing and the tactics businesses use to gain sales. At Greenspark, we are fully transparent, so you can be assured that our money is going where we say it is. Check out our public ledger to find out more.
If you're interested in taking positive climate action, you can book a demo of the Greenspark platform here.