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As the climate crisis accelerates, people are thinking more carefully than ever about their personal impact on the planet. Did you know, for example, that over 60% of consumers are actively cutting back on single-use plastics, and almost 50% are committed to buying more seasonal produce? Meanwhile, four out of every five people are more likely to shop with brands that adopt environmentally sustainable practices.

Such scrutiny represents a positive change of direction in many sectors. As well as holding companies to account for their corporate responsibilities, it encourages brands to adopt more transparent approaches to marketing.

However, with businesses under increased pressure to flaunt their eco-credentials, some are resorting to unscrupulous marketing tactics. Fashion brand H&M recently came under fire for misleading customers about its products. Ironically, its supposedly eco-friendly “Conscious” collection was found to contain more environmentally damaging materials than its main clothing line, leaving the company open to accusations of so-called “greenwashing”.

If you’ve never heard of greenwashing before, it’s time to get clued up on the basics. Arming yourself with this knowledge will help you maintain a strong relationship with eco-conscious consumers and avoid PR disasters.

So, what is greenwashing exactly?

Greenwashing is a marketing practice that involves exaggerating, misrepresenting, or outright lying about a brand’s sustainability credentials. The term is commonly associated with oil companies and other major polluters, but it can affect companies in virtually any industry. While greenwashing is occasionally pernicious and calculated, even well-intentioned companies can misrepresent their sustainability practices from time to time.

In the long-term, greenwashing could significantly hamper efforts to address the climate crisis. According to recent estimates, over 40% of businesses falsify or exaggerate their sustainability claims, lulling consumers into a false sense of security about their personal choices. So, how can you avoid this trap?

Seven tips for avoiding greenwashing

Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to avoid greenwashing if you’re an honest marketer with a keen eye for detail. Here are our top tips for preventing greenwashing accusations and staying true to your ethical principles:

  1. Research, research, research

By far the most important step is to educate yourself about issues surrounding sustainability. The more you know about topics such as recyclable packaging, seasonal produce, and sustainable working practices, the more likely you are to spot misleading marketing copy. You don’t have to spend hours studying. However, do try to keep up with the latest environmental news and consider how you can improve your company’s sustainability strategy.

  1. Use facts and statistics to corroborate your claims

It’s difficult to dispute claims based on independently verified statistics and qualitative data. You may need to spend a little time and money on research, depending on the nature of your sustainability drive. However, it could pay dividends in the long term and demonstrate your brand’s reliability.

  1. Think carefully about your marketing images

A common greenwashing tactic is to use branding images that misrepresent how the company operates. For example, populating your sustainability collateral with images of people planting trees or watering flowers could be deceptive if you’re not actually engaging in those activities. Try to keep your communications realistic, humble, and clear.

  1. Avoid ambiguous language

Unfortunately, it’s easy to use vague and platitudinous language when writing about green issues. However, imprecise copy could leave you vulnerable to accusations of greenwashing. If you’re unsure how your words come across, ask a colleague or acquaintance to give them the once-over before unleashing them on the world. Honest feedback could save you from significant issues further down the line.

  1. Acknowledge that there’s more work to do

Let’s face it – virtually every company in the world carries some kind of carbon footprint. As such, there’s always more we can do to make our business practices as clean and ethical as possible. Acknowledging this fact and reassuring customers that you’re working to reduce your carbon footprint will engender trust in your brand and encourage other businesses to follow suit.

  1. Apply for official green certifications 

Applying for certifications from sustainability bodies such as B Corp or Planet Mark will reassure eco-conscious consumers that you’re a scrupulous and forward-thinking brand. What’s more, these awarding organisations will also offer helpful frameworks and tips for improving your sustainability practices and measuring success.

  1. Don’t treat sustainability as a passing fad

Some companies shout about the importance of eco-friendly business practices when Earth Day rolls around, only to have forgotten about it within a week. Treating sustainability as a passing fad is sure to upset ethically minded consumers and could harm your brand’s reputation. Difficult as it may seem, you must treat sustainability as an ongoing project.

Start assessing your green strategy today!

While it may be tempting to resort to greenwashing, it won’t do your business any favours in the long term. Start planning your sustainability drive today!