Green Marketing in an Era of Greenwashing
It’s no secret by now that “green is the new black.” It seems like not a day goes by without a high-profile announcement or campaign about another organization that is touting its newfound environmental credentials. However, can a company go from brown to green in the blink of an eye?
… all but one of the environmental claims being made on more than 1,000 reviewed products were either false or misleading …
According to a recent study, all but one of the environmental claims being made on more than 1,000 reviewed products were either false or misleading. Shocking, but not entirely surprising. Some of the claims were likely intentionally misleading. However, others were the product of uninformed or overenthusiastic marketers.
The good news for consumers is that there are a range of resources – like respected eco-labels such as EnergyStar, the Forest Stewardship Council FSC mark and the USDA “organic” logo – to help them make more informed choices. As well, new online watchdog tools such as www.greenwashingindex.com and www.greenwashing.net draw attention to the most egregious greenwashers.
All of this begs the question of how responsible marketers should promote the environmental differentiation of their products or services. Here are some basic principles:
- Consider from all angles why consumers or clients purchase your products. But don’t go right to the green features; understand all of the attributes that matter to them. Weave your brand story from there.
- Move away from the language of sacrifice. Find ways to talk about how your product or service is easier, healthier, more convenient or lower maintenance. Be positive and solutions-focused.
- Align your claims with both the product and the way your company operates. People are not that naïve. They will see through disingenuous claims quickly. Or an NGO will.
- Use your environmental challenges and trade-offs as a way to engage your customers. In fact, an open approach can potentially turn some of them into brand advocates for you.
- Don’t overtrump the facts. For example, Husky garbage bags once touted their garbage bags as biodegradable. The problem is that the bags don’t biodegrade in landfills. In other words, err on the side of modesty.
- Find ways of linking your brand to related causes. Mountain Equipment Co-op has a national partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association, an effective non-profit wilderness protection organization. It’s a sensible partnership since the co-op’s purpose is similarly wilderness-focused.
- Involve employees in identifying ways to reduce your products’ environmental footprint or to tell your green story. After all, they want to align their personal values at work and feel good about their employer.
Now, on to some “don’ts” of green marketing:
- Don’t trumpet the fact that “we’re green now”. No one will buy that you’ve had an overnight corporate epiphany.
- Don’t use vague messaging or images of mountain valleys and flower petals if they have no credible relationship to your product; it just looks gratuitous. Instead, be specific and meaningful.
- Don’t talk about commitments; rather, talk about achievements and real, measurable (and preferably third-party verified) outcomes.
- Don’t overlook leveraging the web and positive word of mouth. Green consumers tend to be better educated, more web-savvy and more networked. So, turn your customers into brand advocates – online and off.
As we all consider our impacts on the environment, government, business and consumers will all have to do their part. Keeping consumers engaged and empowered in those solutions will be critical.
… the challenge for marketers… (is) presenting their green credentials and tightly aligning them with the reality of their operational footprint.
The challenge for marketers will be to find unique ways of presenting their green credentials and tightly aligning them with the reality of their operational footprint. Anything less will breed cynicism and, possibly, set us all back in addressing the profound issues facing the planet.