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Sustainable marketing

What is greenwashing, and how can businesses avoid it?


With Earth Day fast approaching, we wanted to address a topic that’s likely to make marketers around the world shudder (and rightly so): greenwashing.

Sadly, this detrimental marketing strategy continues to rise in popularity, given that sustainability sells. The European Commission revealed that in 42% of cases, green claims were "exaggerated, false, or deceptive" - an unsettling figure that suggests we're in danger of it becoming a tick-box, rather than a long-term commitment.

Some businesses are now taking accountability and adjusting their processes to be more sustainable, but it’s vital that we’re all doing our bit, wherever possible. A lack of research can lead to unknowingly slipping into the greenwashing habit, so education plays a pivotal role in the fight to end climate change.

If you’re keen to make the transition, but have no idea where to begin, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll be defining greenwashing (so you know how to spot it), as well as explaining how you can avoid it (based on what we’ve learnt along the way).

Greenwashing what it is

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the act of making an environmental claim that is unsubstantiated or irrelevant, which (when done knowingly) may deceive an audience into investing in a service or product.

So, how might greenwashing present itself?

  • Making false claims or using vague language

  • Omitting or hiding information in order to convey the ‘best truth’

  • Using nature images or 'green' buzzwords without educating your audience

  • Only telling part of the story; for example, talking about eco-friendly products that are part of a wider, unsustainable range

  • Stating that products or packaging are made using recycled materials, without saying how much, and exactly what they consist of

  • Claiming to carbon offset products, without making any immediate, long-term changes

Embarking on a journey towards sustainability requires openness and honesty above all else, and acknowledging that there are ways your business could improve is the first step.

So, if you’re looking for one way to show some love for the planet, knowing how to steer clear of greenwashing strategies is a great place to start. Let’s get into it…

Greenwashing purpose

1) Know your purpose

Sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many businesses don’t know their ‘why?’ - which is the difference between success and failure.

Anyone can claim that they’re doing their bit for the environment, but the best brands will place sustainability at the epicentre of everything they do, deriving a solution to tackle the climate crisis. Remember, people don’t buy into what you do, but why you do it.

Greenwashing know your journey

2) Know your journey

You wouldn’t set off on a journey without deciding on the best route to take first, and the process of becoming more environmentally conscious is no different. Rather than moving blindly, map out how you’re going to get from A to B, and check up on your progress regularly.

B Corp UK’s Impact Assessment is a digital tool that enables you to measure, manage and, most importantly, improve your business’s current practices. Adapt and review your current strategy before communicating with the public to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap. Not to mention, it may even bring you one step closer to that shiny B Corp certification. And if there’s anything that’ll show your customers that you’re serious about sustainability, it’s this.

Greenwashing know your stuff

3) Know your stuff

Knowledge is power, so before you publish anything to your network, make sure you’ve got your facts straight first.

We won’t beat around the bush: learning about the climate crisis can be overwhelming. However, as long as you’re committed to growing your knowledge, you’re heading in the right direction. From books and podcasts to in-depth training sessions, there are plenty of resources available.

Oftentimes, the most difficult part is getting started. So, if you’re open to recommendations, check out Wim Vermoulen’s ‘Speak up now! Marketing in Times of Climate Crisis.’ A firm favourite amongst team Hattrick, Vermoulen expertly summarises the best ways to market sustainability, teaching how to speak a language that aligns with the new climate normal.

Greenwashing follow the guidelines

4) Follow the guidelines

With more businesses jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, the Government and industry organisations are tightening the rules surrounding greenwashing. Your reputation is at stake, so keeping up to date with new rules and regulations is crucial.

As per the Government’s Green Claims Code, you must consider the following before publishing any information regarding sustainability:

  • Are you being truthful and accurate? - You must live up to all claims made

  • Are you being clear and unambiguous? - Avoid any vague terms or phrases that could mislead your audience

  • Are you omitting or hiding important information? - Provide your customers with the full picture so they can make informed decisions

  • Are you making fair and meaningful comparisons? - Any products being compared must meet same needs

  • Have you backed up your claims? - Provide evidence to support any points made

Greenwashing find your tribe

5) Find your tribe

Now, what to do with this newly acquired information? Given the heavy subject matter, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the world is on your shoulders (quite literally). Learning is nothing without communication - whether that involves connecting with sustainability leaders, discovering other businesses on the same journey as you, or sharing advice with those who are keen to begin making the change. Why? Because there is power in listening, learning, and collaborating.

And remember, loving the planet isn’t limited to Earth Day - it’s a long-term commitment. Collectively, we need to act (boldly), innovate (broadly), and implement (equitably) to make a real difference - businesses, governments, and citizens included.

For more advice on how we can put a stop to greenwashing, refer to our blog, or sign up to Net Zero Masterclass Course to boost your confidence in sustainable marketing.



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