Greenwashing Risks More than the Court of Public Opinion

Put simply, it’s all of those things.

However, if companies only see sustainability as a PR measure and a tool for brand positioning, they may well fall victim to consumer activism and come into conflict with regulatory standards. Both inevitably lead to reputational and financial damage.

Sustainability is a complex, science-based topic that requires a forensic examination of all areas of a company. Leading companies have recognized that they need to go beyond the narrative to set goals and objectives. But few have yet realized this and backed science-based goals with a strategy and plan that integrates sustainability into every part of their business.

Detailed plans and explanations of how goals will be achieved are what separate genuine commitment to change from purposeful marketing. And it’s the greatest defense against greenwashing.

Tesco is a recent example – the supermarket chain has been reprimanded by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for claiming customers can help the planet by buying products from their Plant Chef range rather than consuming meat-based products. The logic is clear – meat is carbon intensive and one of the transitions we need to make as a society is to switch to a plant-based lifestyle. But the ASA could not find any evidence to support these claims. In addition, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is cracking down on exaggerated or “greenwashed” claims by companies that could mislead consumers about the scale and impact of their sustainability credentials.

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Even brands that are seen as leaders in sustainability can make mistakes. Innocent Drinks, long known for its social conscience and eco-friendly behavior, ran an ad – “Little Drinks, Big Dreams” – suggesting that its products could help protect the environment. The ad was designed, a spokesman said, to turn consumers into “recycling activists.” But as a group of consumers organized under the name Plastics Rebellion pointed out, by doing so the consumer would make a more positive contribution to the environment Not Purchase of the drink contained in plastic bottles. The ASA upheld Plastics Rebellion’s complaint.

In an area fraught with unintended consequences, it’s not just the C-suite decision makers who need to understand the impact on the entire value chain. Each business function must work closely with sustainability teams to ensure the complexities of the company’s sustainability journey can be accurately deciphered at the front lines.

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For this reason, the qualification and training of the workforce at all levels is crucial to avoid greenwashing – and it is perhaps the unspoken requirement that an effective sustainability strategy places on the company. But currently there is a low level of sustainability knowledge in the marketing and advertising industry. In view of the increasing regulation aimed at combating greenwashing, compliance efforts cannot come from the sustainability officer alone. It requires scrutiny by many business functions, from legal to finance to marketing. Therefore, education and training must be at the heart of any organization’s sustainability strategy.

And even with a full-fledged workforce, a company’s reputation suffers if its stated sustainability goals aren’t anchored across the organization. Look to State Street for an example of a company tripping over “brand purpose.” In 2017, it was recognized for creating the “Fearless Girl” marketing campaign on Wall Street. Praised until the US Department of Labor fined the company $5 million by the same year for paying hundreds of female executives less than male colleagues. There was a break somewhere.

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Connection is perhaps the last piece of the sustainability puzzle. Sustainability must exist in organizations as a strategy, not just as a buzzword. It must be integrated into all areas of the company. This is where Innocent and the plastic bottle failed. Radical collaboration across the entire value chain is essential. And while it was ultimately the regulator, the ASA, that sanctioned the company, it was the brand’s consumers who pressed the charges.

Businesses cannot hope to become 100% sustainable across the board right away. However, that doesn’t mean they should stop trying. It’s imperative to own at least one area that is meaningful to your business and the industry you operate in and aim to excel in it – be it support for diversity and inclusion, commitment, fossil Remove fuels from your supply chain or introduce a new facility. based product line. In all other areas, brands and companies need to embrace transparency and be honest about their mistakes. Driven to create a better world, consumers and regulators will understand imperfection. But they will no longer tolerate inauthenticity.