Brandscape

Greenwashing: It's all about truth and trust

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Brands must ensure they aren’t damaging customers’ trust by greenwashing – making false or misleading claims that the company or its products are more environmentally friendly than they are.

You’ve probably heard of whitewashing? Whitewashing is when an organisation glosses over or covers scandalous information by presenting a biased representation of the facts. But greenwashing isn’t nearly as well-known but is increasing as brands race to ensure they optimise the opportunities provided by consumers attempting to shop with a conscience.

Greenwashing can be when an organisation spends time and money marketing itself as environmentally friendly rather than minimising its environmental impact. It can be a shady marketing gimmick intended to mislead consumers who prefer to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands, or it can be an innocent unsubstantiated on-pack claim.

Whatever way a brand might greenwash, whether deliberately or accidentally, there’s a worldwide audience out there that is looking at you through a microscope!

Is greenwashing a new thing?

Greenwashing has been around for years, but as the world increasingly embraces the pursuit of greener practices, businesses face scrutiny for environmental claims.

For years, what seemed the most innocent on-pack comms could now be considered misleading. Think of the bottled water industry. Does it overrepresent its greenness? So many of their plastic bottles have feature images of rugged mountains, pristine lakes and flourishing wildlife printed on their labels?

Recently Tesco has been pulled-up by the advertising watchdog, the ASA, for claiming its vegan ‘Plant Chef’ burgers are better for the planet than meat burgers. The advertisement by the supermarket urged customers to “do their bit” for the environment by choosing the products, claiming “a little swap can make a difference to the planet”. The advertisement, which ran in print, television, radio and social media, was subject to more than 170 complaints.

The ASA said, “Notwithstanding the general benefits of plant-based diets in broad environmental terms, it would not necessarily always be the case that specific plant-based products would always be guaranteed to have a lower carbon or environmental impact than specific meat-based products.”

 How to avoid the greenwashing trap

The overriding brand aim should be to be always truthful and transparent. Do this, and you can’t go too far wrong.

But there are some top-line takeaways:

  • Avoid fluffy language: Don’t throw around words or terms with no apparent meaning (e.g., “eco-friendly” or “natural”).
  • Don’t use unsubstantiated claims: Anything you claim will be scrutinised. Make sure your legal team are ok with what the claim is.
  • Stay away from using evocative pictures: Don’t use branding images that give an unjustified green impression.
  • Fake credentials: Don’t use a stamp or mark that looks like a third-party endorsement.
  • Try not to jump on the bandwagon: The reality is that some products just can’t claim to be Eco in any way.

Choose your words carefully.

But what’s the difference between green marketing and greenwashing?

There’s a fine line between green marketing and greenwashing. Unlike greenwashing, green marketing is when companies sell products or services based on legitimate environmental positives.

Green marketing is generally practical, honest, and transparent, and it means that a product or service meets the following criteria:

  • Recyclable or produced from recycled materials
  • Free of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances
  • Not manufactured using slave labour in poor condition or with underpaid workers.
  • Does not use excessive packaging
  • Designed to be repairable rather than disposable

However, it’s easy for green marketing to translate to greenwashing when an organisation doesn’t live up to the standards of sustainable business practices. “Eco-friendly,” “organic,” “natural”, and “green” are just some of the widely used labels that can be confusing and misleading to consumers.

 The future is bright, possibly bright green!

Be transparent with customers about your company’s practices and have readily available information to support your claims. Tell your brand’s story where you can and how you work to improve things, even if you’re not quite there. Take consumers on your journey to improve. Honesty buys loyalty.

Wow Me Design is the Cheltenham-based brand stewardship agency creating brands people want. We would love you to get in touch at hello@wowmedesign.com

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