Alerting your customers and consumers to your sustainability efforts can pay off in goodwill and increased sales. But if you’re not careful, you could be accused of inflating the impact of your efforts. Learn ways to avoid greenwashing in your marketing communications.
What Is Greenwashing?
When a politician hides their questionable dealings or a company downplays disappointing results from R&D, we call it “whitewashing.” Whitewashing is trying to make something dirty look clean by omitting details, fudging results, or outright lying.
“Greenwashing” is a newer term that has come into vogue as more businesses capitalize on the positive effects of communicating sustainability efforts to their customers and clients.
Companies know that highlighting sustainability sells. But even though they’re more likely to buy products, even at higher prices, that claim they’re environmentally friendly, consumers don’t necessarily believe those sustainability claims.
Maybe that low level of trust in environmental claims is due to “greenwashing.” Greenwashing occurs when a manufacturer makes inflated, inaccurate, or deceptive claims about recycling, energy use, or the environmental impact of their products.
Businesses can suffer irreparable harm when they’re accused of greenwashing, even when it is unintentional. Here are ways to avoid greenwashing in your marketing communications.
Know Your Suppliers
Brands that want to do the right thing by using sustainable practices must dig deep into information from their suppliers. How much energy, and what kind, do they use to produce the parts or materials they sell to you? What about their emissions and waste disposal practices? Do they comingle recyclable materials with nonrecyclable materials in the products they supply to you?
For example, though aluminum and steel have some differences, both are strong and recyclable. Metal fabrication shops can tell you what steps they’re taking to save energy and handle waste. Your supplier should be able to explain how they source recycled metals, and recyclers should also be able to tell you what they do to save energy and reduce emissions. Researching all of this might be a full-time job, but hiring a sustainability officer to check out your supply chain will be worth it in the end.
Whenever you make a claim that something is completely recyclable, compostable, or biodegradable, you’re ignoring important nuances. Packaging may include inks, glue, or coatings that aren’t, in fact, recyclable.
If something takes 1,000 years to break down in nature, do we really want to call that “biodegradable”? Consumers want to do the right thing now, not 1,000 or even 30 years from now. They’ll be more impressed by transparency about what you’re achieving now than by vague goals of achieving it someday.
Be Direct, Don’t Deflect
Slapping a lovely image of a waterfall or a forest on a package doesn’t make what’s inside a sustainable product. And simply making donations toward laudable environmental causes is helpful, but it deflects responsibility to another organization while your company continues business as usual.
It’s better to make an accurate, specific claim about your environmental efforts (“made from 50 percent recycled materials”) than it is to use vague terms like “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “all-natural.”
Avoiding greenwashing in marketing isn’t always easy, but it’s better for companies and consumers that share a goal of working toward sustainability and reducing environmental harm.