Ensuring that corporate sustainability strategies and communications are accurate and transparent is more important than ever. Consumers are calling for genuine climate action, and recently the SEC has been cracking down on greenwashing and exaggerated ESG claims. As a result, greenwashing is no longer simply a reputation risk but a full-blown liability.
This article describes the dangers of this potential landmine for consumer brands and offers some tips to avoid greenwashing.
Aligning with Consumer Expectation: The Eco-Wakening
Our world is waking up to the dire state of our climate, and companies are expected to act accordingly.
A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit shows a monumental 71% worldwide increase in online searches for sustainable goods over the past five years.
The “eco-awakening,” coined by the World Economic Forum, is occurring across industries, regions, and consumer segments. The WEF reported a phenomenal rise among consumers in developing and emerging economies, specifically in areas feeling immense pressure from the climate and plastic crisis, i.e., Indonesia and Ecuador.
With both the business and environmental case, companies are prioritizing improving their environmental impact. However, companies must walk the walk before they talk the talk.
So, what is Greenwashing?
Greenwashing occurs when a company brands their products or services in a way that conveys false or misleading sustainability claims.
However, identifying greenwashing is rarely black and white — there are many shades of gray or green in this case.
For instance, how many plastic water bottle brands have pristine lakes, mountains, and streams on their packaging? Can you think of one that doesn’t? Yet, single-use plastic bottles are one of the primary contributors to the world’s plastic waste crisis.
Should these brands be litigated for their marketing? It is undoubtedly a shade of green.
However, there are absolutely cases where greenwashing should be litigated. H&M is currently under fire for its “Conscious Collection.” A report by Changing Markets Foundation found that this collection used more synthetics than its main collections, and 20% of the items analyzed were made from 100% fossil-fuel-derived synthetic materials.
Decoding the grey and the green will ensure your company avoids greewashing and stays true to your message.
How to Avoid Greenwashing
Avoiding greenwashing starts with a state of mind — a commitment to protect ecosystems through education, science-based target setting, and attentive impact initiatives.
Here are 7 tips that can ensure corporates are true to the commitments they are making.
Begin by educating yourself, your c-suite, and your employees — if you are currently reading this article, you’re well on your way to transparent success. Next, understand the environmental impact of your operations, products, and services, and make sure you are communicating about it with complete authenticity.
Even if your company may not operate within the ideal environmental boundaries, disclosing your business as usual and creating an actionable reduction plan can be a decisive first step to aligning with your stakeholder’s expectations.
Measure and Communicate Your Baseline
What is measured gets managed. A full environmental footprint analysis will enable your company to understand where it needs to improve.
Your current baseline data and forecasts should be made available to your users and customers so they can make informed purchasing decisions. Showing progress over time can make your brand stand out from the crowd, and don’t be ashamed to announce your starting point.
We all have work to do, and a holistic disclosure may feel bold and brave, but taking action now will protect your company from future legislation and show progress rather than adding to the inertia.
3rd Party Verification
A third-party verification of your measurement and reduction targets is key to ensure complete transparency.
Look to credible certification bodies from sources such as Science Based Targets, Persefoni, and Ampliphi.
Understand the Power of Imagery
A picture is worth a thousand words. The imagery your brand employs gives off a strong message, so make sure it aligns with your impact.
Don’t use images that convey unjustified eco/green/conscious impressions. Be true to your impact.
Tread Carefully with Claims
Self-proclaimed environmental claims should be unmistakably clear and easy to understand. Try to include as much detail as possible (e.g., “60% post-consumer recycled plastic” rather than “made with recycled plastic”).
Third-party verifications should be thoroughly vetted and researched—not all claims are created equal. For example, claims that include a required target or action plan are typically more rigorous and science-based (e.g., Plastic Neutral versus achieving a Net Zero Plastic Footprint, which requires target setting and demonstrated progress over time).
Honesty is the Best Policy
It’s time we fall back on our primary school curriculum for our 6th best practice. Be honest about your brand’s sustainability plan and targets.
It’s not just about your reputation, but it’s about the greater good. We are not trying to sound corny here, but if we can all commit to transparent, truthful action, we may be able to achieve our 1.5-degree celsius planetary boundary
Walk the Walk
Commit to reduction. Embed sustainability in your company’s DNA. Empower every vertical with the tools, analysis, and, most importantly, ethos to change the way you do business.
Reduce your emissions, commit to circularity and ensure that your services or products leave the world a better place. We got this.
Transparency and corporate social responsibility
Transparency is essential to bridge the gap between artificial and genuine environmentally conscious companies.
It’s not too late to change business as usual and reimage your company’s agenda, unless you’re BP or EXXON; sorry, guys, you blew it… maybe try a rebrand?
Ampliphi can help you navigate the uncertain waters and ensure that your company avoids greenwashing and creates actionable sustainability initiatives to reduce your corporate footprint.
It’s time we all participate in the change we need to see in the world. Contact us today to get started.