5 Principles for Companies to Avoid Greenwashing

October 8, 2008 by  
Filed under Insights

As more companies jump on the green bandwagon and declare that they are green, there are some who are not being honest or who overstate their so-called green practices or products. In Singapore, greenwashing also occurs, and recent businesses accused of greenwashing include Starbucks, Tuas Power and Compass Point.

This article includes a list of simple principles that you can apply in your green marketing to reduce the possibility of consumers or environmentalists accusing your company of greenwashing. As the principles are general, you can use them in any industry and for any product or service.

The Six Sins of Greenwashing

Let’s start first with a definition of greenwashing and what it involves. Greenwashing, according to Wikipedia, is a term used to describe the perception of consumers that they are being misled by a company regarding the environmental practices of the company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.

The increasing problem of greenwashing was brought to the public’s attention in 2007 by TerraChoice, an environmental marketing agency, which published a study of the environmental claims in the North American consumer market called, The Six Sins of Greenwashing.

The study found that 99% of the 1,018 consumer products surveyed were guilty of greenwashing. The study identified the common patterns in greenwashing and called them the Six Sins of Greenwashing:

  1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off: A claim that a product is “green” based on certain environmental attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.
  2. Sin of No Proof: A claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.
  3. Sin of Vagueness: A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the intended consumer.
  4. Sin of Irrelevance: A claim that may be truthful but is unimportant and unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
  5. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risk distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
  6. Sin of Fibbing: A claim that is simply false.

For the full details, download the study from the TerraChoice website.

5 Principles for Companies to Avoid Greenwashing

Here are 5 principles you can apply in the marketing of green businesses, products and services, and avoid being accused of greenwashing. Use them effectively and they will help prevent negative feedback from consumers and environmentalists.

1. Do Your Homework

Find out the green expectations of environmentalists and your consumers. Ensure that the green claims of your business, product or service are true and consistent with their expectations. It’s also important to look at your entire business chain and check whether any aspect of your operations contradict your green claims.

2. Be Honest and Humble

If your company or product is not 100% green, admit it. Nothing is perfect and everyone will appreciate your honesty. Acknowledge the areas of your product or business that are not yet green and commit to work on it, don’t wait for others to point out the discrepancies. State your green claims as it is and don’t exaggerate and make it sound as if you’re saving the planet. Let the consumers, media, NGOs and environmentalists tell your green story and blow your trumpet.

3. Keep it Transparent

Make it easy for your customers to understand and check the green claims you are making. Are your green claims certified based on established ecolabels, methods or experts? The information on your green claims and relevant details should be made accessible to the public.

4. Work with Stakeholders

Engage your stakeholders, both internal and external, in a dialogue on your green marketing. Are your green claims acceptable to your staff, suppliers, customers, NGOs and the community? Gather feedback from them on whether you’re on the right track or seen to be greenwashing.

5. Focus on the Journey

Emphasize in your green marketing that going green in your business or product is a journey and not the end. Acknowledge areas that are environmentally unacceptable, commit to improve those areas, and seek feedback and help from your customers and the public on your green journey.

Conclusion

These are some simple principles to remember and apply when you’re marketing green practices, businesses, products and services. They are not meant to be comprehensive but if you use them effectively, you don’t have to worry about being accused of greenwashing.

For additional reading on how to avoid greenwashing, check out the Greenwash Guide by Futerra and The Six Sins of Greenwashing by TerraChoice.

Source: Wikipedia; TerraChoice; ENN.

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