Greenwashing is not always intentional. Some companies make genuine strides to mitigate their environmental impact but don't align their messaging to their efforts. Since the mere accusations of greenwashing can devastate any business, owners, marketers, and other employees should know the most common mistakes that lead to accidental greenwashing.
Consumers Care, But They Need Information
A recent survey shows that 64% of Americans will pay more for eco-friendly products, but 74% have trouble identifying them. This disparity is a huge opportunity for businesses to capitalize on their efforts by bringing clarity to their marketing. These five pro tips will help make sure your customers know exactly what your business offers.
#1 – Make Claims in Simple, Specific Language
Consumers are likelier to ignore or even shy away from vague green marketing. Therefore, your claims should be simple and specific without too many buzzwords. Make all claims using units of measurement and percentages where applicable.
For example, claim a chemise you offer is made from 72% organic fibers, or your innovative snack packaging uses 800 fewer lbs. of plastic per year than your competitors. Using precise figures educates your customers and helps to inform eco-friendly decision-making.
#2 – Inform Consumers with Current, Verifiable Facts
Whenever possible, cite facts independently verifiable by trusted 3rd party organizations. Depending on your industry, one or more certifications may be applicable, allowing you to display seals of approval on all your marketing. Certifications include familiar labels like USDA Organic, Energy Star, Fair Trade, etc.
In addition to showing certifications on packaging and web content, keep an eye out for misleading imagery. For example, depicting landscapes and lush vegetation may be appropriate, but intentional greenwashers have used them to manipulate consumers in the past.
#3 – Distinguish Your Business with Fair Comparisons
Comparisons with direct competitors can effectively distinguish your business, but only if they are fair. Comparisons should be as specific as your other claims. For instance, don't compare your greenest product to the average statistics of all your competitor's products. Furthermore, make sure that you compare equivalent goods or services. It is misleading to compare an economy car to an SUV or a tank top to a ski jacket.
#4 – Be Transparent about Present Success and Future Plans
Some companies tout their sustainability plans and make sweeping claims about where their efforts will be by 2030 or beyond. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, but give consumers a road map to show them how you'll get where you're going. Ensure that your sustainability goals are specific and verifiable.
In addition, keep your company's core values separate from the qualities of individual products. It's great if you have a single offering that is most sustainable in class. But if your company has done nothing else to address its environmental impact, avoid claims of being a sustainability leader.
#5 – Data Speaks, Be Sure to Listen
Make every effort to track, compile, and analyze as much data as possible. You should be able to determine (at least approximately) your company's footprint. The more granular the data, the more likely you will be able to see where the most significant opportunities for improvement are.
Consequently, data will provide you with a pathway forward, helping you plan future sustainability initiatives. It also gives you a baseline to compare innovations and competitors. Therefore, use data to direct your efforts and inform your customers.
Keep It Clear, Specific, And Informative
If you want to avoid inadvertent greenwashing or unjust accusations, the name of the game is precision. All 5 of our tips focus on specific, timely, and transparent communications with the public about current and future sustainability. Businesses that follow these suggestions will not only avoid accusations of greenwashing but have a clear record to show their progress and help them plan for a sustainable future.
- Avoid Trends – Buzzwords come and go in the blink of an eye, but it can take years to develop new products or implement new services. So while understanding market trends is vital for individual product solutions, aim everything at pursuing your long-term core values and mission.
- Have Coherence – Ensure your initiatives match your business. For example, a grocery store that donates dish detergent to help save wildlife after an oil spill but dumps hundreds of pounds of produce at the end of every day is leaving itself exposed to harsh criticism. Focus efforts on cleaning up your own spills, not virtue signaling.
- Don't Rely on Token Actions – Shutting off the office lights at night, reusable bottles, and going paperless are all expected practices in 2022. So do them, but don't advertise them in a sustainability report. Instead, spend real time and effort on redesigning packaging to hold more products or sourcing materials from sustainable sources. These are fundamental changes you can be proud of.