From reusable shopping bags to biodegradable straws, it is evident that the environment – and environmental accountability – are important concerns for rapidly growing numbers of increasingly well-informed consumers.

Extremely mindful of environmentally related issues and with genuine concern for the environment, these eco-conscious consumers intentionally support ‘green’ companies and purchase ‘greener’ products – to the extent that they are prepared to switch from one product to another, even at a higher financial cost. ‘Green’ consumers also demand transparency and environmental accountability from companies, to ensure they only support companies that do not harm – or profit at the expense of – the environment or people.

Impact on Business
This impels companies not only to adopt environmentally responsible practices and introduce ‘greener’ products, but also to communicate their environmental responsibility to consumers.

In doing so, a company can unlock a range of benefits:

  • differentiate its products in the ‘green economy’;
  • keep ahead of competitors;
  • enhance brand value and reputation;
  • portray good environmental stewardship; and
  • capture the attention of the growing ‘green consumer’ market.

This has led to an explosion of environmental or ‘green’ claims regarding the environmental practices of companies, or the environmental benefits of products or services. Environmental claims such as ‘biodegradable’, ‘compostable’, ‘organic’, ‘recyclable’, ‘renewable’, ‘zero emissions’ and many others are increasingly common across diverse sectors, including energy, vehicles, household products, textiles, building supplies, food and drinks. These ‘green’ claims are made through wording, imagery, symbols and logos on packaging, labels and advertisements.

Green or Greenwashed?
‘Greenwashing’ or ‘greenwash’ refers to misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

False, deceptive, exaggerated and inaccurate social and environmental claims aimed at misleading consumers to believe that the company or product is ‘environmentally sound’ when it is not, is unethical. However, ‘greenwashing’ can also be the result of a lack of understanding, ignorance or simply over-enthusiasm. Either way, poor or inappropriate communication can result in an industry leader being accused of ‘greenwashing’, even though their sustainability record might be better than their competitors’.

Seven Ways to Spot ‘Greenwashing’

  • Not telling the truth
  • No proof
  • Irrelevant claims
  • Vague or ambiguous environmental claims
  • Hidden trade-offs
  • ‘Better than’ claims
  • Use of suggestive green imagery and self-declared environmental logos

Source: Terrachoice – 7 Sins of Greenwashing

Purchase Power
The public’s insight and knowledge should not be underestimated – people are increasingly well-informed and can exert great pressure on companies if their concerns are not addressed or their trust is violated. Companies that do not walk their ‘green talk’ or intentionally ‘green sheen’ their environmental communications, run the risk of irreparable brand and reputational damage, negative publicity and loss of trust and confidence among consumers and stakeholders.

‘Green’ consumers intentionally use their purchase power as a means to drive change: simply boycotting products and companies that profit at the expense of the environment or people; that do not walk the ‘green’ talk; or that mislead consumers through false or exaggerated claims. They put their money and brand loyalty only behind companies that take ownership and responsibility for their environmental and social impact, and have long-term sustainability goals and environmentally-responsible practices.

With consumers demanding authenticity and accuracy in companies’ marketing and environmental claims, and given the dire consequences if ‘greenwash’ claims are exposed, companies should avoid ‘greenwashing’ at all costs. Below are five ways to market sustainable products without ‘greenwashing’.

Marketing Sustainable Products without ‘Greenwash’

  1. Be factual, honest and truthful. Don’t imply environmental benefits or make irrelevant environmental claims.
  2. Base each environmental claim on a specific and genuine benefit/advantage to the environment that can be substantiated scientifically or by reasonable rationale.
  3. Use clear and understandable language, avoiding general, vague environmental terms such as ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘eco’, ‘green’ or ‘natural’.
  4. Refrain from misleading imagery that portrays a ‘feeling of nature’; implies a sweeping environmental benefit; or suggests endorsement by a third party, such as ‘endorsed by Mother Nature’.
  5. Ensure supporting documentation or information is available to consumers.

Without ‘greenwashing’, your company can provide consumers with accurate and authentic environmental information, enabling them to make informed decisions to support companies that are truly making a difference to reduce their environmental impact.