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  • Writer's pictureChristine Ducey

Avoiding the Perception of Greenwashing

Ways to Speak Up and Make Change

With earthquakes, heatwaves, wildfires, and hurricanes happening in unusual places around the world, environmental consciousness is never far from the consumer’s mind. As customers educate themselves on the environmental practices of their favorite brands, they are also educating themselves on greenwashing. 



Two hands cupping a small plant in soil

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

What is greenwashing?


Greenwashing refers to the deceptive practice of making exaggerated or false claims about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company, thus misleading consumers into believing they are supporting eco-friendly practices when they may not be.


Greenwashing, particularly in marketing, has become a legal concern due to rising environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing. Because of this, sustainable brands face a delicate balance in conveying their commitment to environmental responsibility without falling into the trap of greenwashing. By following a few careful steps, brands can market themselves as eco-friendly without coming across as ingenuine: 


1. Transparency is Key:

Sustainable brands must prioritize transparency in their operations, from where they source their materials to how they manufacture their products. By providing this clear information on the brand’s website or product inserts, along with detailing how this fits into their environmental initiatives, consumers can trust that the brand’s sustainability efforts are sincere. 


2. Third-Party Certifications:

Seeking third-party certifications can add credibility to a brand's sustainability claims. These certifications involve rigorous assessments of a company's environmental and social impact, providing consumers with assurance that their purchases are supporting genuinely sustainable practices. Below are a few examples of reputable certifications that can set a truly sustainable brand apart from the rest:

  1. B Corp: A B Corp certification, or Benefit for All Corporation certification, is a designation given to for-profit companies that meet high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. To become certified, a company must undergo an assessment that evaluates its performance across various metrics such as governance, workers' treatment, community involvement, environmental responsibility, and impact on customers. B Corp certification is different from traditional corporate structures in that B Corps are legally required to balance profit with purpose, ensuring that they operate in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

  2. 1% for the Planet: This certification program verifies that encourages businesses to donate at least 1% of their annual sales to the environment through an annual audit of each brand’s financial and donation statements. Certified companies can display the 1% for the Planet logo to demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship.

  3. Fair Trade Certification: Fair Trade certification ensures that products are sourced from producers who meet social, environmental, and economic standards. It focuses on improving labor conditions, ensuring fair wages, and promoting sustainable farming practices.

  4. Regenerative Organic Certification: The Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) is a certification program developed by the Regenerative Organic Alliance that sets standards for farming and ranching practices that prioritize soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. The ROC includes requirements for soil health improvement, animal welfare, and social fairness, aiming to address environmental, social, and economic aspects of agriculture.

  5. Fair Trade Federation Membership: Businesses that become members of the Fair Trade Federation commit to fair trade principles, including fair wages, transparency, and respect for the environment. Members are held accountable to these standards through an annual screening process.

  6. CarbonNeutral Certification: This certification verifies that companies, products, or events have achieved carbon neutrality by reducing their carbon emissions and offsetting any remaining emissions through projects that remove or sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

  7. Rainforest Alliance Certification: This certification is awarded to products sourced from farms that meet rigorous standards for environmental conservation, social responsibility, and economic viability. It focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture and protecting biodiversity.

  8. Cradle to Cradle Certification: The Cradle to Cradle certification assesses products and materials based on their environmental and social impact throughout their lifecycle. It evaluates factors such as material health, recyclability, renewable energy use, and social fairness.



Men in uniform with "Climate Crime Scene" tape


3. Compliance with Legislation:

Staying informed of relevant legislation is essential for sustainable brands to ensure compliance and avoid any accusations of greenwashing. Recently, The European Parliament passed the Directive on Empowering Consumers for the Green Transition (ECGT) to ban misleading or exaggerated statements, carbon-neutral claims, or unfounded environmental assertions. Though the focus of the ECGT is on consumer marketing, it signals a broader crackdown on greenwashing in all business activities. The legislation serves as a warning to companies globally about the legal hazards associated with greenwashing– it should not just be used as a silly marketing gimmick but should be an authentic and fact-based claim. If it is used as the former, there could be legal repercussions. 


4. Genuine Commitment to Sustainability: 

Sustainable brands should focus on making tangible and measurable improvements to their environmental footprint rather than merely engaging in superficial green marketing tactics. This could involve investing in renewable energy, reducing waste, or cutting back on carbon emissions by a certain amount in five, ten, or even fifty years (see #7).  Social media is a great tool to promote these efforts and a space partner with other brands and influencers that share the same mission. 


5. Educating Consumers:

Sustainable brands have a responsibility to educate consumers about the true meaning of sustainability and the importance of making informed purchasing decisions. By raising awareness about greenwashing and providing resources for consumers to verify sustainability claims, brands can empower individuals to support genuinely eco-conscious companies. These educational tools can be on the brand website, written on the packaging, and included in any promotional emails. 


6. Collaboration and Accountability:

Collaboration with stakeholders, including suppliers, employees, and advocacy groups, can strengthen a brand's commitment to sustainability and hold them accountable for their actions. Examining who your most important stakeholders are and how to engage in a meaningful dialogue with them is crucial in remaining steadfast toward your sustainable mission. 


7. Long-Term Vision:

Sustainable brands should adopt a long-term perspective on sustainability, recognizing that meaningful change takes time and commitment. Rather than focusing solely on short-term profits, brands should prioritize investments in sustainable practices that will benefit both the environment and society in the long run. For example, Patagonia, a popular outdoor clothing brand, prides itself on updating its core values every five decades to “reflect the company we want to be as we embark on the next 50 years.” 



Long road between red canyons

Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

Conclusion

Greenwashing poses a significant challenge for sustainable brands seeking to differentiate themselves in the market. By prioritizing transparency, seeking third-party certifications, complying with legislation, demonstrating a genuine commitment to sustainability, educating consumers, fostering collaboration and accountability, and adopting a long-term vision, sustainable brands can avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing and build trust with environmentally conscious consumers. Only through a genuine dedication to sustainable practices can brands truly make a positive impact on the planet and society.


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