What Is Greenwashing and How Do You Avoid It? 5 Ways To Ethically Market a Sustainable Brand
As demand for sustainable products increases, businesses everywhere are looking at ways to cater to a more eco-friendly clientele.
Many businesses are going about this the right way, making concerted efforts to decrease their carbon footprint and explore new forms of sustainable energy. Others are going about it the quick and dirty way–literally.
When companies lie about their environmental contributions, they are taking part in a practice called greenwashing. This leads to consumers unwittingly purchasing potentially harmful products under the guise of eco-safety.
Greenwashing doesn’t occur without some degree of skill. It requires a PR and marketing push that is able to convince the public of the products’ efficacy, which is a tough sell considering the shaky foundation.
With 70% of North American consumers wanting to purchase from eco-friendly brands, demand has never been greater for authentic brands to step up. But with increased demand comes an ever growing pool of scammers looking to take advantage of these sentiments.
Greenwashing companies won’t rise to the top if they continue to get exposed for their misleading products, but it will still require some nifty marketing efforts for the truly authentic brands to shine through.
What are some examples of greenwashing? You’ve probably seen greenwashing ads without even knowing it. Let’s go over the most common types of greenwashing content out here.
Clickbait Ad Copy
The word “clickbait” itself reeks of misleading jargon. By definition it refers to product statements that are, at the very least, embellished, and at worst, untrue.
Many so-called green products feature ad copy that uses verbiage like “100% organic” and “recyclable product.”
H&M attempted to pull this off with an entire line of clothing called its Conscious Collection, implying that each article was created from sustainably sourced materials. They tried to sell the idea that customers can drop off old clothes in in-store recycle bins and get a coupon for new clothes.
Some companies make claims of eco-friendliness, using buzzwords like “sustainability” and “environmentally friendly,” but they can’t actually prove how they are doing their part.
SC Johnson got into trouble when it was found that they had placed a faux Greenlist certification on their products which was not verified by a credible third party.
This method is a tad more subtle but still misleading. You’ve seen car commercials where a fancy gas guzzling machine is chugging through a beautiful pastoral wilderness; the implication here being that the car company cares about this landscape.
It’s a case where imagery conveys a deceptive story to the viewer. People watching these ads will subconsciously assume that the organization is being thoughtful to their environment, but they’ll soon realize that isn’t the case.
Bait and Switch
Perhaps the most common form of greenwashing occurs when a company offers an eco-friendly product to get customers through the door, but the rest of their product line is not environmentally friendly in the slightest.
This is a case where the company can claim they were being factually correct, but it’s still a deceitful action intended to mislead and confuse.
The classic example here is when someone sees an ad for “100% recyclable” paper towels, then goes to order some and realizes that the recycled kind are way too expensive. They end up buying a cheaper kind that’s not environmentally friendly, all the while thinking they have saved the environment.
Oftentimes, companies don’t make it crystal clear which products are eco-compatible and which aren’t, leading consumers to make purchasing decisions that run counter to their values.
Many companies treat sustainability like fashion. They are merely expressing claims of eco-friendliness because it sounds ‘cool.’
Terms like “non-toxic” or “biodegradable” can skirt lawsuits because of their vagueness. What constitutes something being “non-toxic” or “biodegradable” after all?
Companies that push non-specific claims like these cannot be trusted. They could be labeling a product “recyclable” just because the item was once placed in a recycle bin.
How to Avoid Greenwashing and Succeed
Greenwashing is everywhere, and it will remain so as the sustainability movement continues to muster support. If you are an authentic company thinking, “how can I ever stand out among these cheaters,” we have some ideas that may help.
Here are the 6 best marketing techniques to surpass those companies accused of greenwashing, creating a sales pipeline rooted in trust.
Staying Away from False Claims
#1 is obvious, abstain from saying incorrect things. We learn this at a young age but many adults seem to forget this nugget.
Any exaggerations of eco-friendly practices are unethical, so stay away from making statements if you aren’t 100% sure of their efficacy.
For example, when designing products in a different location where they can’t be physically present onsite, it’s crucial to check in with the manufacturing facility and get evidence that eco-friendly practices are in place.
Ensure that the right materials are being used in production and that equipment is powered in an environmentally conscious way.
Again, if you have any trepidations about making a specific claim, don’t say it!
Being Mindful About Logo Redesign
Imagery is a powerful piece of your brand’s messaging. An environmentally conducive logo can emanate a certain color like green or blue (for water), and it may even contain a recycling symbol.
Many brands also change logos throughout the year to convey solidarity with certain movements or environmental occasions. Unfortunately, this practice is now so widely-adopted it’s become rife with disingenuousness.
Companies might ride the wave of Earth Day by making their logo green but it doesn’t mean they espouse those eco-friendly values.
If you have any ideas or questions about logo design, or maybe you’re just looking for inspiration, you should contact a graphic design agency with logo design experience.
Designing an Eco-Conscious Website
Web design is always about capturing your target audience’s interests but eco-conscious websites require a deeper connection.
Consumers who are in touch with their eco-side tend to be drawn more to emotional cues like color schemes, visuals of nature, graphical statistics, and powerful videos.
If your company is involved in any environmental initiatives, your website is a great vehicle for showcasing those commitments. Features short videos with your team members explaining how you are dedicated to environmental friendliness, lower emission goals, and sustainability. You can feature a resource page on the website that shares links to the various charities and organizations you are involved with.
Emotional appeals can be highly effective in turning prospects into customers, but remember not to exaggerate. Make sure your website remains authentic and goal-oriented.
Target the Right Audience
Understanding your target audience will lead to more fruitful SEO and PPC campaigns, but it all starts with the keyword research phase.
Whether you’re using Ahrefs, SEMrush, or Google Keyword Planner, you may want to try plugging in broad match keyword modifiers at first. Terms like “eco-friendly,” “environmentally friendly,” or “recyclable.”
These modifiers can serve as the necessary springboard to finding high value terms in your niche.
Competitive research is another essential component, as you should dig deep into your competition’s rankings to uncover the best keywords for you. This may give you inspiration for new blog posts and other content marketing elements for your website.
Showing Your True Colors on Social Media
Back to the topic of emotional appeal, social media is a great platform to express your brand’s true ethos if done in a genuine fashion.
False and misleading claims are grounds for removal from many social networks. This looming threat means that companies are walking on eggshells, becoming less likely to engage in greenwashing.
These crackdowns will pave the way for brands with authentic messages to succeed.
Environmentally-friendly folks are generally tuned into social media, making platforms like Facebook and Instagram excellent places to expand your reach.
Aligning With Other Eco-Friendly Organizations
Forming the right associations can boost your credibility and help you tap into a bigger audience. When consumers see your organization aligned with other ethical entities, they will assume you are trustworthy and reliable.
When performing outreach to these organizations, look at their reputability across the internet in the form of reviews, press releases, awards and other acclaims. Make sure they have avoided any controversy and potential charges of greenwashing. These tactics are also used by consumers to identify trustworthy brands, so they should be a reliable method for your partnership efforts as well.
Similar tactics can apply when it comes to finding a genuine digital marketing agency. You want to work with an agency that has been recognized for its good faith efforts and is in good standing with consumers and other industry professionals.
Consumers can tell if your marketing efforts are inauthentic and whether there’s any greenwashing going on, so make sure the team you hire is legitimate and qualified to steer your digital campaigns.
Thankfully, we’re reaching a point in time where most greenwashing companies get exposed for their deceptive tactics. If your organization can remain truly authentic to your eco-friendly work, you will be able to reap the rewards for a long time.
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