An entire industry has emerged around the concept of green marketing and getting the word out about how eco-conscious a business is. But “greenwashing” tactics, carried out to polish a company’s image, can actually have the opposite, unintended consequence of hurting your business, leading to a lack of trust from consumers; damaging true green credibility; and dismantling the positive benefits green marketing has achieved.
The explosion in green claims has come under increased scrutiny and a backlash has ensued. Corporate watchdog group CorpWatch, which has campaigned vigorously against the epidemic of greenwashing, which it defines as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image,” has reserved some of its harshest criticism for industries such as big oil, automobile manufacturing, and the makers of so-called “green” cleaning products.
The following are some possible greenwashing practices to avoid:
- Vague, meaningless language: Marketing messages that say nothing specific and have no fixed meaning (e.g., “eco-friendly” or “kind to the environment”) or words or terms that do not provide facts or back up claims should be avoided.
- Green product, dirty company: Make sure that if your business claims to be green in its philosophy or mission that it really is behind closed doors as well. In other words, a company might stamp an “eco-friendly” label on its consumer product, while the factory producing the product is riddled with questionable practices that fly in the face of its green claims.
- Pretty pictures: Images of wheat fields or rain forests may be a savvy marketing gimmick, but those images can also manage to distract from a company’s true impact.
- One factor syndrome: If you’re touting your product as the “new and improved” replacement for one that was obviously eco-unfriendly, make sure it doesn’t possess the same, problematic properties, or even worse ones.
- Harmful products: Greening a product that’s still harmful, such as “healthier” cigarettes, might not be the best idea.
- Fake or meaningless “green certification”: By now, the marketing world is littered with all kinds of bogus labels and certifications from third parties denoting that a business is green by using often questionable, ethically murky standards and benchmarks.
- False claims: Virtually any product these days can (and many do) get away with slapping an “organic” or “all-natural” label on their packaging, without bothering to demonstrate how it’s a fact.
The following guidelines can help you safely and authentically promote your business as green:
- Show credible facts: If you’ve got something to crow about in regard to, say, ingredients you use or certifications you’ve received, let the world know.
- Educate: Tell stories that support your bona fide green efforts.
- Tell your story: Using bikes rather than trucks to deliver your wares? Profile your bicycle delivery people on your website. In other words, don’t just preach about being green: Prove it.
- Embrace point of sale: Some of the most effective, powerful messages can be delivered right in the store, at that point at which the consumer decides to reach out and buy your product.
- Break routines: Find ways to turn conventional business practices on their ear. For example, purveyors of shopping bags made from recycled materials have ingeniously embraced green marketing.
- Connect the right dots: Do business with other eco-friendly businesses, and encourage customers to do the same. Form partnerships with like green businesses to perpetuate the philosophy and business practices of going green.