How To Avoid Greenwashing Your Business
In 2020, almost any store will be filled with advertisements of the “green” aspects of a product.
However, appearances can be deceiving, the way a company portrays their products, services, or internal practices can be unintentionally, or even purposely false.
Regardless of the reason, companies falsely presenting processes or products as environmentally friendly are greenwashing.
Over time, as customers become more cautious, they will shun companies that do not genuinely utilize sustainable practices. The companies exposed themselves as greenwashers will be seen as less trustworthy and as the less desirable choice.
If you want to be successful with your customer base, you must avoid greenwashing. When you advertise your products, avoid making vague, unsubstantiated claims. You need to understand exactly how your product reflects your assertions using company research and third-party certifications. If you do greenwash, make sure to come clean and show a willingness to change! Customers love transparency and honesty!
Let’s learn more about how companies can banish greenwashing from your company!
Eliminate Generalized Claims
One of the most common ways companies greenwash is through generalized claims. It could be as simple as untrue buzzwords on packaging and usually takes the form of labels or short descriptions included on product packaging or public advertisements. They often misrepresent the reality of the product, or the company as a whole.
This can occur when a business is jumping onto a fad. If it’s trendy to go plastic-free, it might be tempting to promote your product as biodegradable or compostable, however, if your product doesn’t break down completely into organic compounds within a year or two, you shouldn’t make the claim.
Is your claim outdated? Another form of greenwashing is to unnecessarily brag about widely accepted practices or the lack of already banned products. If you are emphasizing your lack of asbestos or formaldehyde in your products, then rethink your advertising methods. Some claims based on “givens” or inconsequential actions can signal to the customers that you are unaware of the current science and can reduce their trust in your company.
IKEA is well-known for their success in this area because they regularly take steps to improve their knowledge of their production and distribution processes so they can decrease their waste and improve recycling in line with their mission.
Do you have available evidence to support that your product is genuinely free from harmful chemicals? It may be tempting to say your products or services are all natural, eco-friendly, or green, but can you actually demonstrate these assertions?
Make sure your company really understands where the terms and ideas you are claiming are applied. You need to know the background behind that label and must be ready to show customers proof about how those products embody the words you advertise.
Understand Your Impact
The easiest way to avoid greenwashing is to advertise only the qualities you can verify with data. Don’t use vague descriptor words unless you plan to also provide additional information that supports the assertions. If you are going to promote a non-toxic or organic product, can you provide data that shows this?
You should advertise your company’s environmentally friendly features, but also let your product speak for itself. Do away with gimmicky statements and highlight only the most unique and salient features of your company/product. You don’t need to dye your products green or decorate them with leaves to emphasize their effectiveness.
Make an effort to fully understand your own business practices so you can promote the genuinely sustainable and/or ethical parts of your company and actively improve the areas that are not. Perform studies on your waste and emission practices to fully understand your environmental impact. Patagonia is a leader in this area, and has won numerous awards because they offer high quality products that are produced in verifiably environmentally friendly ways.
Like Patagonia, do what you can to validate your metrics, through uninvested third parties as well. Don’t use third party certifications unless you actually can verify that you deserve that qualification. By having other organizations, such as Green Seal or the EPA’s Safer Choice program, evaluate your business practices, you can verify what you are claiming in a way that improves your reputation and trustworthiness, and give yourself the opportunity to learn and grow.
If this third party notices areas where you need improvement, it can further benefit your business in ways you never even anticipated! If you get a third-party award or certification, you should make sure to include that secondary set of standards alongside your own to emphasize and reiterate your alignment with trustworthy values.
Another way a business can verify your company’s assertions is through board reviews and consumer reviews. Stakeholders can have the opportunity to confirm whether or not the company is being forthcoming about key data. The information about their environmental impacts and ethical practices.
Do note: Consumers are skeptical of paid promotions. So, you should avoid releasing highly scripted testimonials. You can give the impression of corporate deception. You should use organic testimonials rather than enticed ones.
Proudly and truthfully back your successes with genuine evidence. If you create genuinely ethical and environmentally friendly products and services, you can let the quality do the advertising for you. Less is more!
Change Your Habits
Sometimes, companies may have more of a hand in the greenwashing than they admit. It could be a complex scheme to cover up blatant or nefarious processes or an intentional lie about their practices to hide some unsavory details about their methods of production or distribution.
Some companies may hide behind partial claims, like saying their company is creating zero waste, even though it still creates a small amount of waste behind the scenes. Some may deflect the truth by comparing their own questionable products with other more obviously harmful brands.
No matter what the reason is, companies that withhold or alter the truth about their products or processes are undoubtedly greenwashing. Whether it’s a harmful additive in the products, a reliance on an unethical source, a shameful contribution of pollution, or straight-up environmental destruction, companies need to come clean. It is better to be honest and sell garbage bags as they are, without environmental claims like “This is the BETTER plastic!”. Plastic is still plastic no matter how you frame it.
Luckily, consumers are forgiving if you show the effort to change!
If you are aware that your product or practice is harmful to health or the environment, you should consider halting production and recalling those goods. If it is safe to continue selling the product, then instead, find ways to improve your practices. Fix your production method, get a more ethical supplier, or change the product itself so it lives up to what you claim!
Nike is a fantastic example of a company that successfully turned it around after being publicly shamed for greenwashing. Despite the company’s assertions that they were improving the treatment of their workforce, revelations in the 1990s showed that Nike factory conditions were in fact hazardous to workers. Afterwards, the famous shoe business immediately turned around and has since adopted a tremendous number of ethical and environmentally friendly practices! Consumers stick around when companies show commitment to change!
Customers want to know the activities of your company. Ethical businesses are all the rage now because consumers favor ethical and ecologically-friendly companies and want to be sure the products they bring into their lives aren’t having a negative impact on other people or animals. These types of buyers are interested in understanding your internal business practices and want to know the environmental and social impacts your company has, good or bad.
Animal-testing, sweatshop-based production, and ecological destruction for resources are all widely reviled business mistakes that can drive potential customers away from your company out of concern for the welfare of others. You need to be willing to publicly disavow unethical practices.
How your products are made, where the ingredients or components come from, and how sustainable your overall operation is are all areas of concern for potential buyers. If you hope to successfully build up or maintain your existing consumer base you need to be willing to allow the world to see how you run your business and how the products or services being sold are created. You should be prepared to share internal documentation about your company practices with the public so they can see for themselves and be open to discussion about your business!
Seventh Generation, the ethical cleaning product company, is a great example of a popular company that owes its success to its disclosure policies. Not only do they clearly label every ingredient in their products, but this eco-conscious business goes one step further and has committed to creating legislation that requires product ingredient transparency from all companies. This company shows that to be successful, you need to be open and transparent with your customers! Be like Seventh Generation. Embrace disclosure!
Into the future, transparency, honesty, and accountability will undoubtedly be crucial traits for businesses. They must be embodied as consumers become aware of the impact their buying habits have on the Earth. If any of these tactics discussed above reflect your current practices, it is time to change.
Not just for the customers and the environment, but for your business’s overall success. Customers now are far more savvy. Eventually, someone will find out about your concealed truths, whether it is through internal whistle-blowing, consumer research, or organized public exposure.
To recap, the following steps will help your company avoid greenwashing your business products and practices:
- Know the background behind that label
- Do away with gimmicky statements
- Fully understand your environmental impact
- Validate your metrics
- Come clean
- Find ways to improve your practices
- Show commitment to change
- Publicly disavow unethical practices
- Share internal documentation
- Be open and transparent with your customers
Be ahead of the curve and become an inspiration, ditch greenwashing and be genuine – your consumers and your planet will thank you!