More mainstream brands are joining the journey of sustainability. Companies such as H&M, SheIn, or Adidas have set up sustainable campaigns to promote “green” business. Gaining mainstream attention became helpful and not helpful to the sustainability movement. You may see that large companies are making true efforts to develop more eco-friendly businesses, but among them are a few teams that don’t care as much as they claim. This is how greenwashing broke out in the sustainability space.
Greenwashing is when a company promotes sustainability practices without honest or long-term intentions of maintaining eco-friendly strategies. It started to be noticeable to the point that even consumers grow skeptical of brands for placing “certified” sustainable symbols on products, or claiming an item is “100%” recyclable. They have every reason to be skeptical. Greenwashing is simple to do since much of sustainable development is self-regulated or voluntary. As a whole, sustainable development is still figuring out what it means to be truly sustainable, leaving room for loose interpretations.
So, what happens when you actually are interested in sustainable development but feel cautious about communicating your efforts to your audience? There are ways to communicate your sustainable efforts transparently. You can also find ways to lessen confusion around what your sustainable campaign commitments mean. With a little care, you don’t need to worry about your efforts being mistaken for greenwashing.
1. Partner with Credible Third Party Sustainable Solutions
If you are a business in sustainable development, this is one of the first things you are likely to use. Credible third-party solutions focus specifically on recording, evaluating, and confirming eco-friendly practices. Brands can include established sustainable certifications, like the Leaping Bunny, that already built trust with audiences. Established third-party partners are dedicated to their mission without compromising, making them seem more trustworthy.
Another route for brands is to engage in business collectives that support environmentally friendly practices. For example, being certified as a B Corp associates a company with a collective of other established sustainable businesses. Being part of a recognized collective can boost a consumer’s perspective of your sustainable business. A credible third-party partner is like having an accountability partner and advocate in one.
2. Showcase Reports and Case Studies
Here is a combination that could change the way you talk about your efforts. First, actions speak louder than words. It’s not a new concept, but it is fundamental to remind ourselves every now and then. Second, in our digital age, people love to do their own research. Saying what you do seems less effective than a person thinking they did the work to find out what you do. How can you use this combo?
The most important part of the two-step combination is the second portion. People are oftentimes more committed to a decision they discovered for themselves. Your audience will read your copy, then they’ll go scour reviews, and your social media, and ask their friends to see if they actually believe any of what you are promoting. You can make the most out of natural consumer behavior by giving your audience the option to learn more on their own from sources you create.
Sustainable businesses use reports and case studies for transparency, but they can also be used to empower consumers. Content about your eco-friendly initiatives is a chance to educate consumers and allow them to make informed decisions. When showcasing your work, you build rapport with your audience and give them a chance to take ownership of how they engage with sustainability. It’s a solid way to prove your business is not manipulating or pushing your audience to perceive you in one light or another.
3. Be Careful of Claims or Guarantees
Earlier, we mentioned that consumers become skeptical of “eco-friendly” marketing. Making a claim, such as saying a product is “100% recyclable”, can be misleading to the audience once they read the “fine print” of a product. An item may claim to be completely recyclable, and neglect certain parts of the product that aren’t considered recyclable (perhaps a small part that is easy to overlook). If the claims can’t be backed up by a credible third party or facts, the audience may feel they can’t rely on the sustainability claims.
Looking around, it can be easy to exaggerate or stretch the impacts of certain sustainable choices. You really care about what you’re doing, so you may feel very enthusiastic when explaining your sustainable campaigns. Being enthusiastic doesn’t mean a team should claim an outcome that is untrue. It can happen sometimes when people think what they say is close enough to the truth to be accepted (loose interpretation).
Businesses should state results in a plain and simple manner without trying to embellish what they are actually doing. There’s nothing wrong with saying: “This is what we’re aiming for. We’re not quite there, and don’t have details on how to get there yet. Here’s where we’re at so far.”
4. Don’t Limit Marketing Engagement to Major Events
This is a big tip. Probably bigger than the tip about letting people do their own research, which ironically ties into this one. Are you ready for this? Avoid only showing up to “ride a wave”.
Marketing teams limiting engagement to major events can signal insincere intentions. A brand starts to look like a predatory opportunist when they only show up for holidays, big news, or tragedies. This is easy to spot for most consumers since they can see that the brands aren’t serious over time. These brands typically don’t have a long-term plan to continue their efforts, and the inconsistency exposes their lack of commitment. Consumers are willing to do the research and connect the dots, which is why campaigns that only engage for the hype of a moment don’t do well.
Unfortunately, some brands that do care about sustainability may walk into this unintentionally. There are plenty of examples of brands trying to add to a social justice conversation, but slightly missing the mark on how they enter the space. They miss the mark since they usually aren’t part of the conversation, and are not talking to anyone who is part of the conversation. This can also happen in sustainability.
It’s also possible that a business may not have their content marketing strategy worked out, and rely heavily on big days like holidays to engage their audience. You want to make sure your sustainable business is part of the conversation without needing a major event to get involved. When sustainability is part of your daily operations, you’ll have enough to say already.
Bring Your Audience on the Journey
Brands can avoid greenwashing by showing that they are regularly participating in sustainability, and by sharing their confirmed experiences with their audience. Greenwashing impacts the perception your audience has of your sustainable brand. If you include your audience in your journey and have the facts to back up what you are doing, there’s not much reason to doubt your sustainable practices.
People care about the efforts you make. Show them what you’re up to, and let them add to your goals.