Greenwashing trap and how to avoid it

More than ever before, consumers are jumping on any chance they have to purchase muted earth-tone products which claim to be ‘organic’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’.

Greenwashing: What is it?

There is no doubt in the favorability of green products on the market compared to their conventional competitors. In fact, 66% of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. More than ever before, consumers are jumping at any chance they have to buy muted earth-tone products that claim to be 'organic', 'eco-friendly', 'green' or 'sustainable'. This successful advertising ploy does not always accurately represent what the company stands for, and “greenwashes” the product. Greenwashing ultimately convinces the consumer they are making a favoured choice due to false or misleading advertisements that promote nonexisting sustainability assets.

One of the most common types of greenwashing takes place when companies with typically unsustainable practices highlight an environmental effort they made in an attempt to shape consumers' perception. However, their use of greenwashing does not represent the inherent values ​​of the company. 

A classic example of the clear manifestation of greenwashing taking place in the Dawn an American dishwashing soap company ad campaign. Due to the many chemicals and artificial scents used in their cleaning products, Dawn products are far from sustainable. Yet the company has carried out multiple ad campaigns and commercials depicting workers helping animals impacted by oil spills. In addition, they emphasized the donations they have made for the cause of wildlife on their website and on their products, claiming "Dawn helps save wildlife". Even though donations are being made by the company towards an environmental cause, as a business they are producing a very unsustainable product which counteracts the virtuous act of giving back. 

Often times “green packaging” is another way to create a false portrayal of what is being sold. Companies that make vague claims that are not backed up with clear evidence can also fall victim to greenwashing their product. For example, labelling something as “eco-friendly” without providing additional information that supports the claim, and taking advantage of eco-advertising. Advertisements are a very typical medium in which greenwashing manifests. Companies exploit the use of beautiful landscapes, sustainable vocabulary, and green symbols as a strategy of distracting from the actual impact they are making. The fabrication of an environmentally friendly discourse can carry a company far in terms of venture.

Why is it bad?

Companies use greenwashing to create a trusting bond between the product and the consumer. It is problematic not only because companies are profiting off of sustainability without actually being sustainable, but consumers may continue to engage in unsustainable habits without even realizing. Instead of capitalizing on sustainable marketing influence, companies should be showcasing their green claims because they are proud of their achievements and actually care about the environment. It is also an issue because false advertising tricks the consumer. The less trust established between the company and the consumer, the less likely they are to become a returning customer who believes in the product. With honesty comes trust - increasing the likelihood a brand will be recommended to others by consumers thus boosting demand.

5 Ways to Avoid Greenwashing

Greenwashing can occur without even realizing how you are marketing your product. So how can greenwashing be avoided within your business? Here are 5 suggestions for companies to avoid becoming part of the issue.

1) Research

The best way to avoid deception is to educate yourself and the company to avoid falling into the trap of “greenwashing”. As a consumer, look past the pretty packaging and find out more about a company's production ethics. As a company, reflect on how accurate are the sustainability claims being made.

2) Strategically act upon it

Developing an SDG strategy is key in taking action in making your business more sustainable. Following the guidelines of the framework and actively incorporating the goals into the strategic goals of the organization gives authenticity to sustainable practices and transparency in communication. The SDG Impact Play helps companies to either develop their strategy or advance the one they already have to make it more effective and align the company's employees with the new strategy. 

3) Receive feedback

Opening up a line of communication with customers is one way of gaining awareness of how the claims being made are satisfying the consumers. Receiving feedback is extremely valuable, especially when gaining an outside perspective on how a product can be perceived.

4) Involve Stakeholders

It can be difficult to have control over all the working facets of a company, from the suppliers to investors people's priorities can differ which can result in a variety of sustainable values. However, the more people who are a part of your SDG strategy, the more impactful it will be.

5) Be Honest

Compensating with one sustainable act for many other unsustainable practices is not a solution. People value honesty, and with honesty follows trust, further gaining loyal customers. Without transparency, customers are less likely to develop trust in the green claims being made. Make facts clear and accessible rather than vague and out of context. And if you do not manage to be 100% in the desired all-around sustainability, it is better to acknowledge the problem areas and underline the ways you work to tackle them- customer empathy will overcome that and they will admire your courage and the new direction.

If you want to hear more about how to avoid greenwashing and how to effectively introduce sustainability in your internal and external communication strategy, join us at Branding like you care! event on the 16th of October. 

Where should companies start?

By reflecting on the company's current practices, identify the ways in which sustainability is currently discussed and utilized within your company. The next step is taking accountability and understanding the existing faults of the company. By further understanding the impacts of greenwashing on both the company and the consumer, you can avoid it and potentially improve the trustworthiness of your company. The reality of a company's sustainability strategy must be actively focused on and prioritized in order to attain success and not fall into the breach of greenwashing. 

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