There have been many dubious marketing practices over the years. From dodgy black hat SEO techniques to spamming people with pointless emails. But the worst possible marketing practice has to be the growth of 'greenwashing' over the last twelve months.
When you think about the value of your brand and the need to create integrity with your audience the big question is why would any business want to lie about how 'green' they are?
WHAT IS GREENWASHING AND WHY IS IT SO ABHORANT?
Firstly Wikipedia defines 'Greenwashing' as:
'a form of marketing spin in which green PR and green marketing are deceptively used to persuade the public that an organisation's products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly.'
'Greenwashing' is a term that has become more widely used over the last few years. With the growing number of businesses guilty of some 'greenwashing' this year, I am sure it is set to become more widely understood as the rush to promote 'green' credentials grows further in 2022.
I am not about naming and shaming brands, even though there are plenty I could mention.
From beauty products in recycled plastic bottles but loaded with Parabens, to brands claiming to use recycled materials, but on closer inspection its 50% or less. There are many examples where there are dubious claims loaded on front end services or products.
To get the full picture of just how 'green' a business actually is we need to look at every aspect of the companies we buy from or do business with.
Take Amazon for example. Not everyone's favourite brand, given the debate about corporation tax payments here in the UK. But on closer inspection the business is working to create sustainable locations and uses some electric vehicles. Whilst change is slow in larger businesses and change can go un-noticed very easily we should all look very closely at companies we choose to do business with before judging them. Having said that, Amazon is a clear example of a global business that's changing but keeps selling products loaded with plastic and toxins. So even they have some way to go!
What's needed here is a tightening of the rules that govern what you can say about your business and its green credentials. Openly lying about something is covered by the law. Misleading is also covered but being purposefully vague is something businesses seem to think they can get away with.
What is at stake here for every business, large and small, is a small thing called 'reputation.' Brands are built on it. It's part of the secret sauce that brands evolve from. Brands that build trust through their actions retain customers for longer. Those that lose that trust simply don't. And in a 24/7, switched on world, it is now very easy to get caught out.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS
My new Shark vacuum cleaner arrived today. What was surprising is the business has removed all plastic from the packaging. I was very pleased to see such a transformation. Even those pointless clear plastic sticky seals had gone. But when you check to see if they mention this anywhere you will be hard pressed to find any information about this transformation.
In contrast Tesco announced in a global fanfare in 2019, the removal of one billion pieces of plastic from products by the end of 2020. When you dig in to this piece of news, the scale of change is quite small when you actually consider the staggering number of single items Tesco sell in an average year. It's less than one in 50. But according to their press team they did achieve this target which is part of their packaging strategy called the 4r's. So a small hand clap please for a little bit of change by a leading supermarket.
These two international businesses have demonstrated that you can harness change for the better on a huge scale and both have demonstrated that you don't need to use 'greenwashing' tactics to dress up the achievement.
Businesses that go about making changes to support sustainability quietly have to be applauded.
BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR GREEN CREDENTIALS
It's a simple principle. If your business is not sustainable, green or otherwise, don't say that it is. Don't make claims you have no right to.
Telling your customers something that clearly suggests what they are buying is good for them and the planet when it isn't, will simply make the inevitable happen sooner!
Let's make 'Greenwashing' a thing of the past. As marketers we have the power to influence the businesses we serve and keep the customers we win.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I'm Stephen Moore FCIM, a Strategic Marketing Consultant living in beautiful Suffolk. I support businesses large and small in Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire and London. I have been writing about marketing developments for 20 years with articles in The Metro, City AM, Fresh Business Thinking, AllWork, The Marketer and Marketing Week.