Updated: Oct 30, 2020
What is it?
Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company's products are more environmentally sound than they actually are.
Greenwashing is considered an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company's products are environmentally friendly (Investopedia.com January 2020).
Companies have typically been seen to exaggerate their claims in order to deceive customers and gain business. Advertising a product as ‘containing 50% more recycled content than before’ when the increase has taken the product from 2% to 3% recycled materials, is technically a true statement, but it is a classic example of greenwashing behaviour.
HOW TO AVOID GREENWASHING
1. Set a clear CSR strategy
One of the first things an environmentally conscientious consumer will look for is a ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ strategy. CSR reports, often published on a company’s website and freely available to the consumer, offer clear insight into a company’s social and environmental priorities.
By setting a clear company goal for various objectives, and by publishing the results of these objectives, you are displaying accountability for your actions and building trust with your consumers and audience.
Choosing to model your sustainability reporting around the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Framework may be a logical step. The GRI is a reputable, international recognised independent organization that pioneered sustainability reporting in 1997. It is used by thousands of businesses as well as governments worldwide, and helps them to understand and communicate their impact on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and social well-being.
Additionally, if you're based in the UK, then the UK government sets out the key principles of making an environmental claim here. This is useful starting place for ensuring you are meeting key legal requirements.
As an aside, from an operational standpoint, many ‘green’ approaches adopted within an organisation, not only save money, but they also serve to add to your credibility from a CSR point of view. Conserving energy and taking your recycling efforts seriously will no doubt have a beneficial effect not only on your company overheads, but also on your brand image, as your customers can see you’re taking your efforts seriously.
2. Be transparent about your product.
If at present, you are only able to source appropriate packaging for your product that is made from 50% recycled plastic, and your goal is to improve this long term, then say so. Customers will value your honesty and transparency. As you build your product offering, by seeking to improve on your sustainability goals and communicating these to your consumers, then your efforts will be rewarded by not only differentiating your offering from that of your competitors, but also by ensuring credibility in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
3. Consistency is key
Once you have decided on your goals and focus, stick to them. By communicating a clear message to your customer, you will build trust and transparency in your messaging. There is no doubt that by building on these solid foundations that this will draw a loyal customer following to help your business grow, with no greenwashing on your behalf.
Image credit: unsplash/seefromthesky
For more advice for sustainable businesses view our other articles here.