Why Greenwashing Doesn't Wash
Sustainability is becoming an increasingly important issue for businesses, as consumers become more aware of the impacts their choices have on the environment.
Whereas in the past companies could get away with not caring about sustainability, that's no longer the case. Consumers are driving change by demanding products and services that are environmentally friendly.
However, some companies look to hide behind a greenwashed image; a pervasive and growing problem. Greenwashing is the act of disseminating misinformation to make a company's products seem environmentally friendly. This is used to make people believe that an organization is doing more to protect the environment than it is.
Taking many forms, greenwashing may include false advertising claims or undertaking green marketing initiatives that don't have a positive environmental impact.
It's a problem because greenwashing deceives consumers and gives companies a green reputation they don't deserve. It also undermines the legitimate efforts of companies that are trying to be environmentally responsible.
The rise of greenwashing can be directly linked to the increase in Environment Sustainability Governance (ESG) awareness and the public's growing interest in climate change. As consumers become more interested in sustainability, they're also becoming more discerning about which companies are truly committed to environmental responsibility.
Just as fast food companies 'read the room' by introducing plant-based meat or airlines switched to more fuel-efficient planes, or electric cars became more popular, all businesses need to be aware of public sentiment and the growing demand for sustainable products.
Consumers are also interested in how a product is produced, not just what it is. They're looking for companies that are transparent about their supply chains and can show that they are using environmentally friendly practices as verified by third parties.
There are a few telltale signs if a company is greenwashing including:
- Claims that are vague or impossible to verify
- Use of terms like "natural" or "eco-friendly" that are not specific and carry no independent verification
- The carbon neutrality of a product without proof
- A lack of transparency about how the product is made and what materials were used
Plant The Tree
The process to prove your green credentials may seem daunting at first, but doing so will foster stronger relationships with stakeholders including your employees (especially those entering the workforce), and customers.
You will also be in a better position to identify and mitigate any environmental risks and capitalize on new market opportunities.
Five Quick Tips on How to Avoid Greenwashing
- Be honest about your environmental record
- Make sure all of your green claims are accurate and verifiable
- Avoid using misleading or exaggerated language in your marketing materials
- Ensure that your sustainability initiatives have a positive environmental impact
- Make transparency a core part of your corporate culture
5 Ways to Avoid Greenwashing
Tip #1: Make sure all of your environmental claims are legitimate
This means using accurate data and following established guidelines for measuring environmental performance. It also means being transparent about how you calculate your emissions reductions and disclosing any certification schemes you've participated in.
There's no need to risk a public backlash by making false or misleading statements about your company's sustainability practices.
Tip #2: Don't overstate your environmental credentials
Avoid overstating your environmental credentials through exaggerated or misleading language in your marketing materials. It also means not making unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of your sustainability initiatives.
These days, consumers have the means to check claims made by corporations and are less likely to trust a company that engages in greenwashing.
Tip #3: Be transparent about your environmental policies
A third way to avoid greenwashing is to be transparent about your environmental policies. This is through public reporting of your greenhouse gas emissions, disclosing the ingredients in your products and where these were sourced, and revealing how you make your products. People are curious to learn how things are made or the processes used to produce what they buy.
Tip #4: Implement sustainable practices
A fourth way to avoid greenwashing is to implement sustainable practices. This means making sure all of your operations are environmentally responsible, from manufacturing and shipping to product packaging and disposal. It also means using renewable energy sources whenever possible, investing in energy-efficient technologies, and getting independent certification.
Tip #5: Foster a corporate culture of transparency
Fostering a corporate culture of transparency means making sure all employees are aware of your environmental policies and encouraging them to report any potential breaches.
Just as dumping rubbish at the roadside rather than taking it to the dump can result in a fine, so too can environmentally irresponsible behaviour by companies. The public is increasingly aware of the impact their choices have on the environment, and they're not afraid to hold businesses accountable.
Being seen to be green by following a greenwashing strategy for whatever reason can have a serious negative impact on your brand. Whether to save money, avoid public scrutiny, or make sales, the risks are too great to ignore.
Just as the fossil fuel industry is being held accountable for its part in climate change, so too will other industries be called to account.
The public is not afraid to hold businesses accountable and is increasingly aware of the impact their choices have on the environment.
The risks of greenwashing are too great to ignore and businesses need to be transparent in their environmental policies if they want to avoid negative consequences for their brand. Implement sustainable practices, foster a corporate culture of transparency, and make sure all your environmental claims are legitimate to stay ahead of the curve and avoid public backlash.
There are, however, companies that have implemented green strategies, such as reducing their energy consumption, using recycled materials, and investing in renewable energy sources. These companies are genuinely interested in sustainable practices and making a positive impact on the environment because it makes good business sense.
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