How to avoid becoming a “greenwasher”

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“A business that makes nothing but money, is a poor business ” – Daniel Howden

Green marketing is an essential marketing concept for marketing new products and services. Many global companies claim that they support the environment and are moving to more sustainable and eco-business friendly practices, but what does that even mean? It’s important to understand that green marketing is a complex matter that has moved beyond recycled paper and consumer communication. The business will need to look deep internally and externally at it’s operations and it’s products. There is much to plan for and it’s not just a simple case of checking the “we’re now green, come buy our products”.

According to Greenbiz there are five essential green strategies that every organisation should consider from the top down, bottom up approach (and I am sure you may even add many more). This post summarizes them for consideration:

  • Walk the talk – A committed CEO and management team that has clear vision and respects the environment and community in which it operates. Management needs to step in by example and empower employees through education about climate change, cleaner energy, technology and consumer behaviours. All employees need to think about their products and services and identify ways to become involved, whether this is through research or development, product innovation or customer service. It is refreshing to note that HSBC became the first bank to become carbon neutral. This means that their products and services produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, an outstanding achievement for public recognition and customer interest. Management will also need to communicate their values around sustainability and be practical in their every day approaches. I’ve mentioned that organisations should move beyond recycled paper but in all seriousness this is a very good starting point. Recycled paper harvested and printed with soy based inks will reduce environmental impacts. Marketing managers should look at their customer communications and consider sustainable approaches – ask questions like, can this paper based drop be eliminated completely and replaced with social media?
  • Be transparent – Provide access to product details and corporate practices. Organisations should consider membership of the United Nations Environment program, ISO and other voluntary groups, having your brand aligned and affiliated to these bodies act as a marketing strategy in itself, boosting the overall brand of the product and that it cares for it’s footprint. Honesty is essential when selling products and services.
  • Enlist the support of third parties – eco-labels, enviromental product declarations and cause marketing are just a few examples. Energy star is a good example as this becomes instantly recognizable for consumers who are on the hunt for a new fridge or dishwasher. In it’s simplest form Energy star relates to it’s industry rating of how efficient it will be on energy and water use. It’s something that many consumers are interested in these days, particularly as they are looking at ways or maximising their return of investment on a new product and it’s ongoing costs in the household. I also like the suggestion that if a company is unable to affiliate or join an eco label, that they should consider creating their own.
  • Promote responsible consumption through the product life cycle – New product development is all about it’s starting origins, growth, maturity of the product and eventually end of life. Correct use and disposal of products is an essential marketing strategy which sends a clear message that the organisation is not just interested in revenue but also how consumers utilize, re-use and correctly dispose of products. We only have to think about the average battery these days and while great for kids toys, present a challenge for disposal. It all starts with the product label and interestingly enough, many consumers will look at the product and it’s environmental claims. Other examples relate to printers and ink. HP for example has a comprehensive recycling and re-use process through the life of it’s products. You could almost argue that without this in place, a company with these products could almost diminish and cease to exist if they did not do this?
  • Focus on the benefits – It’s important to wrap the benefits around the product and tell a story through the brand about environmental responsibility, from the manufacturer to the consumer and also highlight the facts. “The most dramatic result in energy use is from  the highest-consuming large appliance in a house, the refrigerator, which has reduced energy consumption on average by over 60 percent” – Fisher&Paykel.

Do you agree with these strategies? what others can you think of? or as a consumer do you scan a product for environmental friendliness? Which organisations tend to greenwash consumers over their products and hide the facts because they are not particular proud of them?

Quick Green Marketing Video

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6 thoughts on “How to avoid becoming a “greenwasher”

  1. Hi Raymond,

    Certainly agree with your points here and whilst I you’re right with saying that the next steps are to go beyond the printer paper and even the hybrid cars, essentially a stone within the business needs to be unturned. The key to being recognised as a greener more sustainably focused business or organisation is about looking at your internal processes, production methods, product and material selection.

    This is no easy challenge but businesses are stepping into this space:

    http://www.sharp.se/cps/rde/xchg/se/hs.xsl/-/html/sharps-green-mind.htm
    https://www.apple.com/environment/
    http://community.timberland.com/earthkeeping/green-index

    Cue the green fields and solar panel pictures…! Sorry, don’t mind my sarcasm…

    So this is already becoming big in the minds of businesses and looks to be ensuring its place in business practises in the future. As generations pass and the young adults step into the business world, kids that have been exposed to the effects of humans on the planet through most of their educated life, they will, in turn bring this to the boardroom table (Or one will hope they do!)

    The only point I’m not 100% with you is at the end of your 4th point, about developing your own eco label, this potentially would lead to confusion and what would be the standards that the label actually applies to, don’t get me wrong, it could be good. A classic example of what I mean is the ‘Made in Australia’ logos, it’s not really clear..
    (Sorry for another Checkout video but scroll through this in to about 4:30 and you’ll begin to see my point)..

    Great blog, nice one..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your post Simon.

      I understand your point with regards to Australian made. Yes the creation of your own eco-labels could go either way. Perhaps I need to add a correction to my original post and clarify that depending on the organisation whether this is a small or larger business and somewhat different to the normal retail or energy organisations, that if no eco-lable exists in that industry, then perhaps instead of creating one, the company to rally and assist with developing one, so this shows that the company has vested interest in making a change for the good.

      Have a quick glance over http://www.geca.org.au/ pretty good website to get an organisation behind the environment and quite a cool way to certify products. (There are a couple of toilet paper products listed).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Most people would agree that this is the right thing to do for organisations however for this to be part of an organisations marketing strategy or in fact be the core of the strategy, the organisation has to actually have a legitimate ‘green’ product or process to market.

    There is a real risk that organisations are going to use ‘green marketing’ to respond to consumers every growing desires, without having the infrastructure to support their claims.

    For example in 2012 fruit importer Dole New Zealand was warned about their marketing campaign ‘Ethical choice’. They were potentially misleading customers and questions were raised about whether their internal processes conflicted with the messages being sent to customers.
    Check out this article http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/7387781/Fruit-importer-warned-over-ethical-label

    Also in 2008 the Australian Commerce Commission required SAAB to ‘not re-publish’ their advertising campaign as they were making misleading statements about their vehicles carbon omissions and the benefit of planting 17 native trees for every car sold.
    More details found here http://www.gala-marketlaw.com/archives-52004/86-asia-a-pacific/74-saabs-green-ads-declared-misleading

    The cost of this campaign would have been significant and is suspect it not reaped little benefit but probably damaged their brand somewhat.

    I think this topic is very interesting and in the next 5-10 years will become more prevalent for businesses. It is going to be very important for Marketing managers to ensure that guidelines are not breached and risks are identified for ‘green marketing’ campaigns to ensure their success!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi

      Yes I fully agree with your reply and comments made and I would highlight the strategies in my post that this is truly a top down and bottom up approach. The organisation needs to look at itself internally and externally. It’s not just about it’s products but also it’s manufacturing processes, suppliers, operations, CEO vision, paper use etc. The organisation needs to be transparent and be realistic. Honesty is essential here and also is a legal requirement. It would be far better for an organisation to display the facts as they have them (even if they are not super proud of them) and then reinforce the message that they are actively looking at their operation within the community and environment in which they serve. (Continuous improvement). Misleading consumers would be a recipe for disaster.

      Extracted from :- https://www.accc.gov.au/consumers/misleading-claims-advertising/false-or-misleading-claims

      “Environmental (‘green’) claims

      “Environmental claims may appear on small household products such as nappies, toilet paper, cleaners and detergents through to major white goods and appliances. They may include statements about environmental sustainability, recycling, energy and water efficiency or impact on animals and the natural environment, for example ‘green’, ‘environmentally safe’ or ‘fully recycled’.
      Businesses making these claims must be able to substantiate them.”

      Like

  3. It is far easier to just claim to be environmentally friendly while no actual actions are taken to protect the environment. Many companies have taken this route with their products, “Walking the Talk” is rather difficult. An infamous example would be recyclable bio plastics which were marketed as being both recyclable and biodegradable, this product turned out not to be recyclable and not biodegradable (at least under natural conditions) since the plastic can only decompose in industrial composting facilities – which are not available to customers.

    While the short term benefits of “greenwashing” are easy to see, I think it is much better follow the five essential green strategies given by Greenbiz because that way consumer good will can be maintained. Strategies such as transparency allow clients to clearly see the efforts the company has in place to protect the environment. This would do much to boost the overall brand of the product.

    Like

  4. Thanks for this summary of Greenbiz’s strategies for Green marketing. I especially like the advice for companies to be transparent and walk the walk. I think many companies claim to be green but don’t have the stats to back them up. Consumers are savvy, especially the ones who are making the choice to shop conscientiously.

    Like

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