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5 Lessons learned about Greenwashing

Article

October, 2022 

What did we learn about green-washing in 2022?

Greenwashing is a marketing trick used by companies to appear more sustainable than they actually are (intentionally or unintentionally). Yet, greenwashing is causing the sustainable transition to slow down and makes social norming of sustainable consumption more difficult.

 

1. Honesty. Be specific, don’t be vague

Words like “conscious”,  “committed”, “eco-friendly” or “green” can be empty unless it’s super clear to a consumer what it means. Therefore, stick to easy-to-understand messages like organic, 90% recycled, Fairtrade etc. Take chocolate brand and B-Corp Tony Chocolonely, who clearly explain their 5 principles for slave-free chocolate.

2. Visual true representation, no confusing images of logos

Practises like showing a forest while selling oil, are misleading to consumers, as they create incorrect mental associations between your brand and nature. Major oil companies like Shell have been accused of greenwashing, for using false visual representation.

3. Be transparent, don’t omit your flaws

Very few companies today are already net-positive, most of us are in transition. Consumers understand that companies are not 100% sustainable yet. It’s better to show progress, and be honest about what’s not yet working. Skincare Brand, Cocokind takes transparency to the next level by showing the carbon footprint of their products on their packaging.

4. Align commitments with your mission, choose where you can make the biggest impact

Identify where your company can make the biggest impact and make sure your commitments align with your mission and ambition. Be committed to your claims and keep them.  For instance, The Body Shop committed itself to be animal cruelty-free. It’s been part of their mission from 1976, and they continue to advocate, campaign, and push boundaries against animal testing.

5. Create new social norms: use creativity to change behaviours.

Marketeers should stand up to create new social norms, to make sustainable alternatives attractive & the default. Marketing has the power to change consumer behaviour and to nudge consumers to sustainable alternatives. The classic example is oat-drink company, Oatly, which has been nudging consumers and baristas to swap milk for oat-milk.

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