Marketing Ethics: When Green Marketing Becomes Greenwashing

Sustainable living, eco-conscious products, and carbon neutral services are all popular concepts in 2021. Customers and stakeholders are becoming more and more aware of the environmental impact their consumption. In fact, several studies have found that people want companies be more environmentally-friendly as well as their products and services. But the line between Green Marketing and Greenwashing can be thin for some. Continue reading to know more about the difference and why you should focus on Green Marketing!

Why should you consider Green Marketing?

Green marketing, also referred to as Eco-Marketing or Sustainable Marketing, falls under the category of Corporate Responsibility (CR)/Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Generally, Corporate Social Responsibility revolves around how the actions and ethics of a business impact society, the economy, and the environment, and how they work towards having this impact be positive for the company, stakeholders, customers, and society at large. Green marketing is therefore a positive strategy to uphold a positive CSR when it comes to the environment.

Green Marketing generally focus on:

  • Actively finding, and employing, ways to minimise the business’ environmental impact in terms of their workplace, supply chains, manufacturing, products, services, packaging.
  • Using their CSR as a selling point for their business such as:
    • Advertising donations to environmental cases
    • Educating customers on their recycled/recyclable packaging, their sustainable workplace processes, their low carbon footprints and similar.

The numbers:

  • 80% of Eu citizens believe companies are not doing enough to protect the environment.
  • 81% agreed that ‘many products claim to be environmentally-friendly, but you do not trust this is true’.
  • 57% of global consumers are willing to change their purchasing habits to help reduce negative environmental impact.
  • 40% of global consumers are purpose-driven; consumers who seek products/brands that align with their values/lifestyle, and are willing to pay premium for products that align with those values/lifestyles.
    • 71% of those who highlight transparency and traceability as very/extremely important are willing to pay a premium for brands that provide it.
woman holding Planet over Profit placard
Photo by @markusspiske via Unsplash

What separates Green Marketing from Greenwashing?

Green marketing becomes Greenwashing once companies claim to be more environmentally conscious or friendly than they actually are in order to gain positive profits and reputation. Greenwashing can come in several different forms:

  1. By outright lying about the business’ environmental impact such as their energy usage or carbon emissions, the amount of recycled material in their products and/or packaging, using fake labels, or their plans to move towards more sustainable methods.
  2. By visually presenting themselves as a ‘green company’ by using images of nature, animals, or the colour green, despite the products/services not being environmentally sustainable.
  3. By claiming their products/services are more environmentally friendly than other products, but not informing customers of the non-sustainable or non-environmentally-friendly ways the products are produced.

The biggest sign a company is greenwashing is by the lack of numbers and evidence to support their environmentally conscious claims.

Is Greenwashing worth the risk?

Greenwashing has been linked to a phenomenon called “Green Scepticism”.

…‘green skepticism’—defined as the consumers’ tendency to doubt the environmental benefits or the environmental performance of a green product…

Leonidou & Skarmeas (2017) Gray Shades of Green: Causes and Consequences of
Green Skepticism

Green Scepticism does not only hurt those businesses that participate in greenwashing, but genuinely green businesses as well. This again will have a negative impact on the environment as customers might not chose more environmentally friendly products as they don’t trust the brands’ claims to be true.

Green Scepticism most likely come to existence because of a customer’s experience with Greenwashing in the past. Research has shown that when customers realize that businesses have been using Greenwashing strategies, the consequences can be detrimental. In some cases, customers describe feeling betrayed when it comes to Greenwashing. With feelings as strong as these, brand trust will decline significantly, along with lead generation, and ultimately sales. These negative consequences works similarly for both outright lies and half-lies.

So, is Greenwashing worth it? In short; no. But, why are there still several businesses that do participate in different types of Greenwashing? Well, they might perceive the benefits of making customers and stakeholders believe they are more environmentally friendly outweigh the consequences and risk of being found out. In which case, they are playing a dangerous game, that might cost them their reputation and brand trust in the end.

Planet Earth First signage sticked in gray post outdoors
Photo by @aplaceforcreation via Unsplash

What should you do?

Hopefully you’ve realized that Greenwashing is no worth the risks or the guilty conscience, and you are now looking for other ways to market your business. Here are the two most important next steps:

Be transparent: Transparency is one of the main building blocks for brand trust. if sustainability is not a part of your brand values, do not claim it as such. If your business is only doing a few things to reduce your carbon footprints, be honest about this – don’t falsely inflate your numbers.

Strive for sustainability: As the numbers show, customers wish to consume environmentally friendly products/services from ethical businesses. By not striving for sustainability your business may be losing a high amount of leads and sales as for many this is a driving factor.

Start by reducing your business’ carbon footprints today to make your customers happy and the planet as well!

Save this article to get started on your green marketing strategy, or find this article on my Pinterest so you can save it there!

Published by Elise Olsen

Media and research devotee turned marketing enthusiast! I strive to give small business owners and bloggers all the research-based content needed to optimise your online marketing and social media strategy for growth!

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