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Top tips for brands to avoid ‘greenwash’ marketing

Top tips for brands to avoid ‘greenwash’ marketing

By Jessica Bower, project director, Sundance London.

The origins of the word ‘brand’ symbolise a mark of trust in the producer or purveyor.  Today, the world’s strongest brands are those that are able to maintain their trustworthiness in the eyes of consumers.

A genuine commitment to caring for the environment is becoming increasingly synonymous with responsible business behaviour. ‘Green’ has become the colour of trust and part of the credentials of most brands.

To maintain trust and credibility and to avoid accusations of ‘green-washing’, organisations need to ensure that they connect the ‘green’ initiatives they create with the values and mission of their brand. In some cases, this may mean ensuring their own business processes are as green as possible.

In others, a green strategy may be additionally about supporting causes or actions that are complimentary to the brand’s own operations.  

Brands need to realise consumers’ priorities and their understanding of environmental issues to ensure that they address them in a way that is engaging and resonant.There is great admiration for brands who lead the way on issues and make them understandable for consumers, for example Ariel’s ‘Turn to 30’ campaign as a simple expression of energy saving.

Consumers have higher expectations in their evaluation of brands that claim environmental values, and they are less willing to believe the company’s own point of view. We see evidence of this in the growing consumer reliance on third-party certifications in purchase decisions.

In recent research conducted by Sundance London, we found that consumers are increasingly using these designations, such as ‘organic’’ or ‘ A-rated energy ’, to influence their buying decisions.  These certifications can offer a meaningful support to brands’ own initiatives. For example, Ben & Jerry’s ethical sourcing initiative is now underpinned by its transition to Fairtrade status in Europe.

A key finding of the research is that such certifications need to be synergistic with the brand’s own initiative if they are to provide meaningful verification and avoid being seen as an ‘add-on’ badge.
Brands can gain great credit from green actions undertaken by or on behalf of the brand.  But often achieving real environmental benefits involves some consumer behaviour change, and this can be more challenging to achieve.

There are a number of key actions that can make the process easier:
•  Make the issues and benefits understandable and meaningful
•  Identify clear, simple, step-by-step actions
•  Highlight the impact of these actions in a tangible way (e.g. this would be the equivalent to removing X number of cars from the road)
•  Show how the brand is doing its bit too (e.g. the current Eon advertising campaign presents not only initiatives for consumers to take part in, but also explains what the company is doing to reduce emissions)

Consumers are more marketing-savvy than ever and expect brands to ‘walk the walk and talk the talk’ in everything that they do. This means that they expect brands to go beyond stories to real actions with real impact.

The accusation of ‘green-washing’ is much more likely to be levelled at stand-alone marketing initiatives than an ongoing campaign that communicates the brand’s tangible initiatives and actions.

On-off advertising, for example, appears as tokenistic and does not demonstrate a whole-hearted commitment -particularly if seen as merely a way to profit from consumers’ concern for the environment without making real change.

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