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How companies can avoid greenwashing

With growing sustainability awareness among consumers, the shelves in supermarkets and drugstores have turned increasingly green. Brands play on the fact that consumers subconsciously associate this colour with being positive and environmentally friendly. But a closer look at the ingredients often reveals the truth: Where it says "green", it doesn't always mean environmental protection or even sustainability. And this, of course, is an example of what we have come to term "greenwashing".

What is greenwashing?

In a nutshell, greenwashing describes the activities of a brand to position itself as more sustainable than it actually is. The aim is to persuade environmentally conscious consumers to buy a product. Marketing activities can be described as greenwashing if they distract from business practices that are actually harmful to the environment and socially unjust. To this end, more time and money is often spent on CSR communication than on measures for environmental protection or for a fair supply chain or production.

Greenwashing tricks

To polish up their image, some companies or brands reach deep into their bag of tricks. However, we would like to say at this point that the line can sometimes be very thin and some companies succumb to greenwashing out of ignorance or mere carelessness. Thus, it definitely pays to know the "sins of greenwashing" and avoid them. A 2007 study by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. proves to be still very relevant here by identifying the following 6 "sins":

  1. Hidden trade-offs:
    Here, companies deliberately ignore environmentally harmful aspects of their products and focus their communication on one part of the product features. In doing so, they neglect the big picture.

  2. Lack of evidence:
    Environmentally friendly attributes are highlighted without corresponding evidence or certification.

  3. Vague descriptions:
    Using terms that appear to be positive but don't actually say anything. For example, what exactly is "green" or "natural"?

  4. Irrelevance:
    Companies highlight completely irrelevant product features. Example: Why do dried fruits need the label "vegan"? This can lead to bizarre situations, like a queue of people at a stand with "vegan leather". And in the end, this is conventional artificial leather.

  5. The lesser evil:
    A product that in itself has a very large CO2 footprint or is particularly harmful to the environment is improved a little and called "green". Let's take insect killers labelled "eco" as an example. Maybe the ingredients are not quite as harmful to humans, but insects are still killed. And cigarettes "without additives" still cause cancer.

  6. Lies:
    The sixth sin describes absolute false statements regarding environmental compatibility.

With the boom of eco-labels, their abuse has also started. Therefore, some sources add another sin to the six:

False labels:
Not all labels are based on resilient information and actions. Thus, any kind of certificate should be transparently traceable for the interested consumer.

How do companies avoid greenwashing?

Probably the simplest measure to avoid greenwashing and to draw a clear line to successful CSR communication is for a company to be clear about its social and environmental impact. And then, first and foremost, to work on becoming truly more sustainable:

In the environmental area as well as in the social area; at one's own location as well as along the entire supply chain. Those who define and implement measures here, communicate progress honestly and put it into perspective with the big picture, should have little to worry about.

Outlook: Greenwashing check

Would you like to take a closer look at this topic? Then stay tuned, we are currently working on a short greenwashing check for companies. Let us knowif you want us to send it to you directly or subscribe to our LinkedIn pageto get the latest articles.

WeShape and CSR communication

Of course, we started thinking very early about how companies can present themselves and their brand in a positive way without greenwashing. How? On the one hand, we take the liberty of rejecting companies that we suspect are merely using WeShape to divert attention from negative business practices. Defining this is not easy and requires a balanced overall view. On the other hand, through close contact with our non-profit partner organisations, we know how positively the constellation of corporate donation, WeShape and non-profit projects affects their scope of action. Measurable results emerge and we can show on a daily basis, through the pictures and videos of the projects, how a donation has an impact in the end.

In our opinion, this can and should be carried as a role model internally and externally. Do good and talk about it authentically. That's why our platform offers discreet marketing features. From content sharing in social networks to an individual donation widget that transparently displays the supported projects.

What is our unique selling point? We put the focus on the aid projects and thus support them twice. Of course, this will often "rub off" on the companies. But if this goes hand in hand with values that are actually lived, then it is a win-winthat we are happy to support 🙂

We would be happy to show you what's behind it. Make an appointment for a demo here.