In her article entitled “Marketers Can Avoid Greenwashing: How Your Brand Can Stay True to Its Environmental Claims,” branding agency CBX’s VP of Marketing and Growth Stacy Hintermeister breaks down the dirty details on greenwashing for the American Marketing Association’s Marketing News. What’s greenwashing? It’s when a brand’s positioning depicts (either intentionally or unintentionally) a product as more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Package design that includes pretty waterfalls and forests can give consumers a false impression of being green.
“Oh, we didn’t mean ‘green-green’”
Unfortunately, like nature-inspired packaging, green buzzwords are often misleading and sometimes don’t even carry the meaning they once did. A great example, according to Stacy, is the word “natural.” Even just a couple years ago, “natural” was a pretty powerful disclaimer. Today’s enviro-conscious consumers are looking for specifics: bee-friendly certifications, farm-to-table, regenerative farming, etc. all hold more environmental credence for today’s environmentally savvy consumers than simply “natural.”
“So, what exactly do you mean?”
It’s important for brands to educate consumers not only on the fact that they’re environmentally friendly, but on what their environmental initiative means. Stacy cites CBX client Snapple and their move from glass bottles to plastic bottles. At first glance, most consumers think glass is better because it’s fully recyclable. Snapple recognized this but had an even more important goal for its packaging—to reduce gas emissions. How? Glass is heavier than plastic, and by switching to plastic, they were able to find a better way to achieve their climate-preserving objective.
The green gray area
One of the hallmarks of greenwashing is over-ambitious claims. Stacy quotes Nina Goodrich, director of the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, who says, “An example of one of the most egregious claims that we see is stating a package is ‘100 percent recyclable.’ However, nothing is 100 percent recyclable, because packaging uses inks, coatings, adhesives, and other materials.” Another big no-no is a brand looking for positive PR by promoting lofty goals, e.g., “fully sustainable by 2030,” when there is no specific roadmap in place to get there.
Green means go-time
So, what’s an eco-conscious company to do? Start with a list of sustainability goals and create an attainable action plan. Brian Hauck, design manager and sustainability expert for CBX, says that recyclable and eco-friendly claims are only getting more important with each generation. Not only is the future of our planet at risk, but retailers and governments are cracking down and will be requiring better sustainability from consumer packaged goods.
Coming clean with the green
We are all human and, yes, sometimes our brands will make honest mistakes or overstatements. The best thing to do is to come clean and correct errors in a timely manner. To avoid greenwashing, brands need to focus on data, embrace third-party certification, and try to avoid exaggerating the eco-truth. As Stacy explains, “The best way for marketers to avoid accusations of greenwashing is simple: Stay truthful—the future of our earth (and your brand’s reputation with consumers) may depend on it.”
Read the full article here: https://www.ama.org/marketing-news/how-marketers-can-avoid-greenwashing/