South Africa’s growing population continues to place ever-more pressure on our country’s scarce resources, demanding that government, companies and individuals become more environmentally-conscious.
This is evident in a raft of new ‘green’ legislation from government, as well as existing and new companies joining the ‘green’ economy to provide environmentally-friendlier products and services to a rapidly growing number of ‘green’ consumers who are, according to businessdictionary.com, “mindful of environment-related issues and obligations, and is supportive of environmental causes to the extent of switching allegiance from one product or supplier to another even if it entails higher cost”.
As a result, increasing numbers of companies want to promote the environmental attributes and ‘green’ claims of their products and services to capture the attention and loyalty of this new consumer market. This, unfortunately, has given rise to the unethical and immoral practice of ‘greenwashing’, which according to environmental marketing firm Terrachoice is “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service” through, for example, incorrect claims, factual errors, misrepresentation or omission of information in their marketing and public relations communications. Two pertinent examples include advertising and public relations focussing on a single ‘green’ aspect of a product misdirecting attention from its true total environmental impact and publishing green claims that are so vague, they cannot be substantiated or disproved.
‘Greenwashing’ is a dangerous gamble with a company’s reputation. Inaccurate ‘green’ claims or simply glossing a ‘green sheen’ over advertising and public relations communications create a significant risk of negative publicity and irreparable brand damage when ‘greenwashing’ is exposed.
The number one rule for ‘Green’ public relations is authentic, genuine and honest communication. Solid, verifiable evidence that the company’s ethics and culture are consistent with the ‘green’ claims made is the very foundation of a ‘green’ communications campaign. In fact, genuine, measurable green initiatives, extending throughout all operations of the business, are the only way to build confidence, trust and loyalty among this new breed of consumers. In order to rise above the ‘green noise’ created by ‘greenwashing’, a company must ‘walk then talk green’, keep its promises and ensure every environmental claim is not only true, but also benefits consumers.
It is imperative that public relations specialists and communication professionals don’t simply add this ‘green sheen’ to media messages, but rather walk the green mile with their clients, guiding them in terms of crystallising their green intent, providing advice regarding disclosure, and communicating the resulting green initiatives to all stakeholders in a clear and understandable way, and with passion, sincerity and integrity.