Greenwashing vs. Green Marketing – What is Your Company Doing?

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You’ve probably seen environmental activists pushing for brands to be more eco-conscious and use sustainable products. While there are many non-believers of climate change, the World Economic Forum reported that the top five economic risks for 2020 are all environmental – and one economic risk is climate action failure.

Many companies today are switching to using eco-friendly alternatives. McDonald’s, for instance, has pledged to protect our planet by taking climate action, such as reducing the amount of their plastic packaging. 

Supermarket mogul, Walmart, has also taken the initiative to be more eco-conscious by converting 28% of their energy to renewables and diverting 78% of its global waste to recycling and reusing. Walmart has even taken an aspirational goal to achieve zero waste by 2025 in the United States. 

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While again, many brands have started to commit to sustainable and eco-friendly practices, some brands have taken the heat to greenwash to lie to consumers. One example would be H&M’s line of “green” clothing, Conscious. 

What is greenwashing? 

Greenwashing is a marketing ploy that brands use to deceive consumers that their products, aims, and policies are environment-friendly. What these brands do is use misleading information to make them appeal more to the eco-conscious market. 

The Difference between Green Marketing vs. Greenwashing 

There is a fine line between greenwashing and green marketing, which is why many brands who do green marketing may quickly take the heat of greenwashing. For instance, if an organization does green marketing and fails to live up to sustainable business practices standards, they become greenwashing brands instead. 

Green marketing guarantees a moral obligation for companies to be more environmental and socially responsible. They design their business practices to have minimal negative impact on the environment. 

Green marketing is honest, transparent, and the products or services of brands who do green marketing meet these criteria:  

  1. Free of toxic materials or ozone-depleting substances.
  2. Able to be recycled or is produced from recycled materials.
  3. Made from renewable materials.
  4. Manufactured in a sustainable fashion.
  5. Does not use excessive packaging.
  6. Designed to be reusable, repairable rather than disposable.

 Brands today can easily take advantage of Green marketing labels such as “eco-friendly,” “organic,” “natural,” and “green” yet fail to back these labels up – hence, greenwashing. 

How to Avoid Greenwashing for Your Brand 

It won’t be a good look for your brand should you earn the label of greenwashing.

With that, here are six marketing and/or branding activities you should look out for to avoid the possibility of greenwashing your brand: 
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  1. Use of ambiguous words– Using words such as “all-natural” or “eco-friendly” can mean several things. It’s best to use definitive words that describe how your products or services are actually environmentally conscious.  
  1. Lack of transparency and proof– Your company should be able to provide proof regarding your environment-friendly claims. Be transparent of what how your brand is eco-conscious. 
  1. Utilizing suggestive photos– Photos say a lot about a product. When you use images that suggest a green impression, you’re riding the back of green marketing even if your product does not really comply with “being green” in the first place. 
  1. Irrelevant claims– Sometimes, brands emphasize on one tiny green attribute or characteristic for their products or services, yet everything else about their company is anti-green. 
  1. Fabricated claims or data– Reporting fabricated claims or data just to prove your business practices are sustainable are outright lies that deceive consumers. Please don’t do this. 
  2. Green products vs. dirty company– This one is probably the most greenwashing a company can do. When a company produces green products such as efficient light bulbs or sustainable fashion pieces, yet their factories pollute the air and rivers…   

Go Green or Go Home? 

As I’ve mentioned above, the top five environmental risks for 2020 are all environmental. I think this will continue for the next years until businesses pledge to go green by using more sustainable resources. However, if you’re company hasn’t gone green yet, it’s best not to market your brand as “green.” If so, you will probably just receive a huge backlash (and potential lawsuits).  

Be transparent to your consumers. Honesty is still the best practice when it comes to doing business.