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8 Ways for Brands to Avoid Greenwashing

11th Mar 2024 - 2 min read

Eradicate those greenwashy vibes

A guide to ethical brand communications and responsible storytelling

Understanding Greenwashing

We've all seen it. "100% sustainableAll naturalEco-friendly"…. Can we, as consumers, trust or even understand these broad sweeping statements? As brands, can we expect our customers to?

When companies portray themselves, their products, or their packaging as more environmentally responsible than they can substantiate with evidence – they're guilty of greenwashing. Some brands engage in it deliberately, and many others do so out of innocent ignorance. Regardless of intent, this kind of environmental misinformation misleads consumers about a brand's practices and environmental impact.

It's a risky tactic for more than one reason. It compromises brand integrity and undermines genuine sustainability efforts—diluting any that might be worthy of recognition and celebration!

And in the not-too-distant future, there could be grave consequences. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission have recently announced a plan to crack down on greenwashing. Their measures may even include legal proceedings and infringement notices.

Do you want to avoid this trap?

Inspired by the ACCC's Guide to Making Environmental Claims, we have laid out eight strategies to help you sidestep the pitfalls of greenwashing:

1. Maintain your integrity

All of your environmental claims should be honest and accurate. Do they truly reflect the reality of your sustainability practices, or have you over-egged them a little? Even minor overstatements might mislead your customers.

2. Provide evidence

Ensure that any green promises are backed up by independent certification, substantiation, and credible, verified data. Beware of the risks of assessing your products yourself and seek expert third-party advice and verification where possible.

3. Embrace transparency

Communicating clear, data-driven information about the environmental impact of your products and packaging can foster an open dialogue with your audience. Feel comfortable in sharing your failures. Customers will value this over chest beating and will appreciate that you are making an effort and being transparent with them about what is and isn't working. This follows best practices from a responsibility standpoint and builds trust with your brand's community and customer loyalty.

4. Clearly communicate any limits to your claims

You can avoid misinforming consumers by plainly stating any limits that might affect their interpretation of your environmental messaging. Often, contextual factors may influence messaging. A product might be made from what are claimed to be "sustainable materials," but if it's sourced from a region known for environmental degradation, it could undermine the claim.

5. Avoid overstatements or sweeping generalisations

Bold numbers and percentages are eye-catching—a compelling technique when you're trying to cut through in a crowded marketplace. This might offer a short-term gain, but it leads to long-term pain if they can't be backed up with evidence—the internet hive mind can be incredibly effective at sniffing out inconsistencies or discrepancies.

By prioritising accuracy and precision in your messaging and ensuring claims are substantiated, you will avoid misrepresenting your brand. Fostering trust enhances your brand and drives sales; given consumers are more likely to choose you over your competition if they trust you.

6. Use straightforward, simple messaging

Your business might benefit from a well-versed sustainability team, but the general public usually doesn't have the benefit of this expertise. By using accessible language, you're more likely to convey your message in a way that ensures widespread understanding.

7. Ensure any imagery, illustrations, or icons are accurate

A cleaning product's label featuring lush green meadows, clear bubbling streams, and snow-peaked mountains might be a beautiful way to sell a product. However, it may also unintentionally—even innocently—convey to your audience that its contents are more environmentally friendly than they really are. To avoid misrepresentation, stick to visual cues that reflect your product and packaging characteristics and origins more closely.

8. Communicate your progress

Every business is at a different stage of its sustainability journey. Fortunately—and perhaps counterintuitively—customers do not expect perfection from their favourite brands. Most people value authentic and honest communication and want to feel like they are a part of your journey. Celebrate your progress, share learnings from your challenges, and convey your future aspirations.

By following these principles of authenticity and transparency in your communications, you can cultivate enduring trust with your audience. Consumers want to know if you're contributing meaningfully to global sustainability efforts.

Communicating responsibly allows you to take market leadership and elevate the environmental conversation. Through ethical communication practices, you'll be sure to steer clear of the greenwashing trap.

Filed under: Regulations

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