We’ve all heard of whitewashing in business. Companies lying about an issue or situation to make it sound better than it is.
But have you heard of greenwashing?
In essence, greenwashing really isn’t much better than whitewashing.
Based on a similar concept, greenwashing is all about deceiving customers to believe that your environmental business practices are greener than they are. This is done through ‘greenwashing’ marketing. Think incorrect statements on packaging, deceptive ads, fake certification logos.
In light of World Environment Day on 5th June, we explore the concept of greenwashing and how to avoid accidentally greenwashing your business.
Greenwashing is a big no-no.
It’s easily done – even if you don’t mean to.
Not many companies intentionally set out to tell barefaced lies about their environmental practises. However, it’s easy to release the wrong information.
Once a business is caught lying about their environmental practises, they’re easily in for a 60 degree greenwash on extra spin. The bigger the lie, the larger the damage to company reputation, and the higher the chances you’ll face a lawsuit.
Green products sell. The greener the product, the more attractive it is. Most buyers will opt for a greener product. Just like getting a question right choosing the colour green – it makes us feel like we’re choosing the correct answer.
It’s a tactic that’s used to pinch audiences who choose sustainable products over any other product.
Where did ‘greenwashing’ come from?
Greenwashing was coined by Jay Westerfeld in 1986, after the ‘save the towel’ movement that was designed to cut washes on mass hotel laundry, didn’t save a single penny (or the environment, for that matter).
Perhaps the most famous greenwashing scandal was Chevron’s marketing campaign which released an international marketing campaign that promised environmental values and a high attune to the environment. Meanwhile, Chevron was leaking mass amounts of oil into untouched natural habitats, simultaneously violating several environmental acts.
How does it happen?
There are so many ways to market a product as greener than it actually is. Changing labels to have green backgrounds and adding the words ‘naturally sourced’ used to cut it.
It’s when companies claim to tackle a major environmental problem, by simply marketing a dud product that doesn’t do anything to help, but only adds to the problem. Let’s take Macdonald’s paper straw campaign, for example. In reality, the paper straws couldn’t be recycled easily§, which only added to the landfill crisis and frustrated everyone.
The controversy of greenwashing creates a massive sense of uncertainty for sustainably conscious consumers. How do we know we’re getting what we think we’re getting?
How to spot greenwashing:
- Using nature in marketing
That heavenly backdrop of a mountain range on your plastic water bottle certainly doesn’t make the product environmentally friendly.
- No certification or fake logos
Watch out for the small rabbit or green seal logos. Often logos will be anchored with copy to confirm their legitimacy.
Vague language like ‘naturally sourced’ is an eyebrow raiser. Because ultimately, everything is naturally sourced. Tobacco is naturally sourced, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
How to avoid greenwashing your business
Greenwashing is easy to accidentally do, but it’s just as easy to avoid doing it.
Being honest about your green practices and increasing your sustainability ethos is great, but make sure your claims are really genuine. Legitimising your claims can lead to massive company growth. After all, over 70% of millennial consumers are far more likely to purchase a product when it’s marketed as environmentally friendly.
Lie about your sustainability, and you’re losing almost the entire customer base.
How to avoid greenwashing
- Know your operations:
Do your homework – what are you really selling? Your operations might be green, but are your suppliers as green as they say they are?
- Provide evidence-based information
Provide facts, stats, and factually correct information to back up your claims
- Certify every claim
Provide certification for your statements. Consumers will trust you more when they see reputable sustainability logos
- Don’t use green marketing unless you really mean it
Using green imagery is basically leading people to believe your whole brand is about sustainability. If it’s not your central USP, don’t use it.
- Be transparent
Keep your customers in the loop, and integrate honesty into everything you do
Ultimately, avoiding greenwashing is about being thorough, and attentive to everything that comes in and out of your business. And really, it’s all about honesty and transparency. Your consumers will appreciate your honesty far more than being deceived into purchasing your product on the basis of it being environmentally friendly.
No one has all the answers. But if you let people know you’re trying your best to increase your environmental awareness, you’ll organically attract more leads.