27 February 2024

Marketing and Greenwashing – The Divorce

Building a sustainable brand presence while keeping it real

Sustainability has been a hot topic as far back as those prehistoric days before the smartphone invaded Planet Earth. The sustainability green machine has travelled into every corner of our lives because consumers love it. And, truth be told, they mostly love it because of the great job marketing has done, whether that was via green lobbying and education, or through clever branding.

But it wasn’t all wedding bells. The rather murky side to this planet-friendly love story was the emergence of greenwashing. Remember that? Yep, greenwashing is when an unscrupulous company makes a false or deceitful claim to trick consumers “into believing that its products are environmentally friendly, or have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do.”

This was recently discussed in Forbes, when Solitaire Townsend highlighted a couple of greenwashing scandals. One of these starred the DuPont chemical company, which presented itself as the friend of clapping seals in this commercial, only to end up with headlines drawing attention to its toxic spills which became one of the worst PR disasters in history. Consumer reaction was swift and damning.


Consumers crave sustainability

Futerra, an organisation with a mission to help clients not only avoid this kind of brand devastation, but also to improve their sustainable credentials, recently conducted some interesting research. The results showed that 88% of people in the US and UK want brands to help them be more environmentally friendly and ethical in their daily lives.

Futerra’s clients, friends and partners include names like Tommy Hilfiger, Ipsos, Google, Formula One and BAFTA – and top of their advice list for sustainable credentials is to Keep It Real!

Why? Because right now, more consumers than ever before are taking a keen interest in how the companies they spend money with are interacting with climate issues, what they’re doing about plastic, and how much pollution they’re pumping into the atmosphere.


New greenwashing law in 2024

And the law is right behind them, making sure that bogus claims will not go unpunished. From 31 May 2024, firms in the UK need to ensure their sustainability references are fair, clear and not misleading and proportionate to the sustainability profile of the product and service.

And this means one thing – marketing and greenwashing are heading to the divorce court.

This follows hot on the heels of the EU Parliament’s “landmark move” to ban businesses from making misleading or unsubstantiated green claims, such as “eco-friendly’’, “environmentally friendly’’, “natural”, ‘‘recycled” and ‘‘biodegradable.” Claims to be carbon-neutral are also outlawed if the business relies on carbon offsetting.

Some countries in Europe are also banning any advertising for fossil fuels. France, Amsterdam and Stockholm are leading a trend which is highly likely to snowball.

Organisations across the world are not only taking note, but walking the walk – this is very nicely illustrated by the brand spanking new Co-op Live development, which we recently took a serious look at. Have a look here if you want a quick peek at how it’s done from the ground up.

This seems like it could be a legal headache, but the reality for sustainability and marketing is optimistic. After all, eco-aware Gen Z and Alpha generations will be looking to spend their money with companies that genuinely care.

So, what’s a marketer to do?


New rules for good old-fashioned morality

Most importantly, don’t try to get around the rules. This will inevitably backfire big time. Have you heard of social media? Well, there are smart, well-informed posters out there, who constantly shine a spotlight on which organisations have something ugly to hide. And when they do, well, those organisations find themselves languishing in the graveyard of cremated reputations.

So, priority number one is to learn your geographical regulations surrounding sustainable claims in marketing.

And, according to sustainability solution finder Solitaire Townsend, priority number two is to shift your marketing approach away from making sustainability claims in the first place.

To help you with this, she asks an important question: “What if you stopped asking your consumers to applaud what you’re doing?”


Make your customer the hero

And the answer? “Most people don’t like doing that anyway. Stop heroing your brand, and start heroing the people who matter: your consumer. The very best sustainability marketing isn’t about you, it’s about the impact your consumer is making. She’s the hero.”

An excellent example of this is IKEA’s ‘‘Climate Action Starts at Home’’ campaign, which kicks off with the great line: “You have the power to make a difference from the moment you wake up.” The ad then runs a showreel on how IKEA’s products can help consumers to waste less food, use less water, and minimise your electricity use, instead of reciting a long list of green credentials.

Solitaire leaves us with one more thought: “Any human being is more interested in a story that casts them as the hero, and not a faceless brand. So, help your customer be a sustainability hero. Show them the difference their choice is making; celebrate how they have prevented kilograms of plastic or carbon from harming the planet. Stop claiming and start helping.”

And in doing so, you’ll make your sustainable marketing really, really matter.


Aim higher!

If this has given you ideas above your paygrade, then all of the team at mustard MD can help you find the job and salary you truly deserve. Call us on our hotline now – the number to dial is 0117 929 6060.

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