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What is Greenwashing, Why is it Important and How to Avoid it?

What is Greenwashing, Why is it Important and How to Avoid it?


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What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a relatively new term to come into the marketing field. It has become more relevant as sustainability and greener choices become a growing priority of consumers and businesses. So what is it? Greenwashing is the process of misleading consumers about the sustainability of products or services. The exaggeration of any claims of environmental benefits is also considered greenwashing. The origins of greenwashing come from the word ‘whitewashing’, which means to gloss over unpleasant or incriminating information about someone or something. The term whitewashing has more recently taken on a new cultural meaning;  the act of casting white actors in non-white roles in order to appeal to a wider audience at the expensive of diversity. Any companies attempting to capitalise on green initiatives can be subject to investigation by the Competition and Markets Agency (CMA). The CMA is a non-ministerial government department aiming to regulate market competitiveness and prevent anti-competitive activity.

Greenwashing Watchdogs

You might have seen the term greenwashing popping up in the news recently as investigations into ASOS, Boohoo, and Asda have been launched by the CMA. "The CMA outlines that the main concern is whether or not the brand's statements and language are too broad.Highlighted by the CMA was the ASOS ‘Responsible Edit’, the Boohoo ‘Ready For The Future’ range, and Asda’s ‘George For Good’. The CMA claims that these edits may suggest that the brand and its products are more sustainable than they are. The CMA highlights that the criteria of featured projects may be lower than customers would reasonably expect (e.g. less than 20% recycled materials), and some products may not reach these criteria at all. This enquiry into the practices of these brands comes as part of a broader initiative to keep a better account of the fashion sector. The promotion of ethical marketing from the fashion sector has become increasingly popular as second-hand buying through apps such as Depop has grown in popularity with consumers.

The CMA has since pledged to hold companies accountable for misleading environmental claims. Should ASOS, Boohoo, or Asda be found to have broken consumer protection laws, they could be taken to court. Coca Cola greenwashing accusations have also been a focus of the CMA. Despite the company’s green claims, it is the world’s biggest producer of plastic waste. Mcdonald’s greenwashing claims came when the company announced a plan to be net zero by 2050. However, they are still the largest purchasers of beef worldwide, producing 22 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year from their beef footprint alone. More greenwashing examples include Tesco, Head and Shoulders, and Fiji Water. Greenwashing can be very dangerous; misleading customers to believe real progress is being made damages the current environment and the planet’s future. Below, we've highlighted the best practices for green marketing.

Best Practice For Marketing Sustainability

When you realise that greenwashing also has foundations in law and isn’t just a marketing buzzword, it can feel a lot more daunting. But, greenwashing is relatively simple to avoid. They say honesty is the best policy, and they’re right. Sustainable marketing is about providing customers with the option to shop in a greener space and highlighting where and how products are sourced. One way to achieve this is to stick to your data and let that talk for you. Highlighting the data for customers is a convincing and accurate way of promoting your sustainability claims. Another way to avoid greenwashing is to embrace the certification of third-parties. Third-party certifications help build trust with your consumers and give you the legal seal of approval to advertise your sustainability. Several trusted and recognised third-parties can certify your sustainability claims including: Certified B Corporation, EWG Verified™️, Climate Neutral, and Fairtrade International. You can find more about them and some more similar organisations here

The language you use when discussing any environmental initiatives is also imperative. Using terms like ‘green’, ‘sustainable’, or ‘eco-friendly’ cannot be used without proof of this being accessible to customers. Avoiding ambiguous language is also really important. Claims about future sustainability aims should be clearly laid out in a tangible business strategy. Avoid omitting negative information. Including the positive benefits of your products while the negatives outweigh those positive changes is considered greenwashing. Overall, the key to avoiding greenwashing in your marketing is to advertise transparently and focus on not exaggerating any claims made, even if they sound good. 

DMT and Sustainable Marketing

Below, we've picked some of our favourite brands that have the credentials of a sustainable business and what you can learn from them.

  1. Gumbies™️: A popular shoe brand that sells unique flip-flops, sandals, and slippers made with adventure in mind. Gumbies does a great job of talking about its sustainable journey and what they’re doing for the planet. The iconic Islander Flip-Flops are made with recycled materials, the straps use recycled cotton to avoid excessive cotton farming, and the soles are made from recycled rubber. Additionally, Gumbies plants a mangrove tree with every purchase. Aside from all the good Gumbies is doing, it also does a great job of clarifying to customers which parts of its shoes are not made from recycled materials, and its mission statement points out its strategy for the future. This is a great example of promoting sustainability as a USP while not misleading customers. 
  2. Tomorrow Creates: ‘Activism you can wear’. The clothes produced by this brand use organic materials, and 50% of the profit from each product is donated to charity and the artists they work with. All of the clothes promote the causes that the brand supports. This brand lets its clothes do the talking by always disclosing the materials and the charity that receives the profits; Tomorrow Clothing offers a clear and accurate representation of its environmental efforts.
  1. Vegan Store: Vegan Store was the first independent UK retailer of vegan products online and is championing the plant-based lifestyle. Vegan Store is always looking to expand its vegan products and communicate with its customers where products are made and how they are made. Marketing the sustainability of veganism lends itself easily to Vegan Store without having to exaggerate claims of environmentalism. 
  2. Johnny Loves Rosie™️: Creators of sustainably-made vegan leather bags and accessories, Johnny Loves Rosie have turned their backs on using leather. They create unique accessories at luxury standards using vegan materials. Their vegan leather has won awards, which evidences the reliability of their claims. Using this vegan leather is a unique selling point for Johnny Loves Rosie, and it’s a simple and indisputable way of promoting their sustainability to customers.
  3. Beaumont Organic: The brand is based around using organic cotton and is Oeko-Tex certified. They’re big on durability as a more expensive brand, and they also like to promote the recyclability of their materials. They have a handy section on their website which tells you where you can find the fine print on their clothing labels and which parts to pay attention to. The details of the fabrics, and where they were produced are all explicitly laid out. This is an excellent example of ensuring customers can access all the necessary information. This level of transparency demonstrates confidence in their brand and their production processes.
  4.  Colourful Standard: The clothing company uses mostly raw and organic materials in their products. They’ve also pioneered environmentally friendly colours for their clothing. Their website clearly outlines the process and sourcing of the materials used in their products. Importantly, they highlight that no clothing company can be entirely sustainable. Still, by reducing their waste, they aim to minimise this as much as possible. This links back to ensuring your claims don’t omit important information. Colourful Standard successfully highlights all the positives of their sustainable efforts whilst acknowledging that they’re not flawless. Overall, they’re a great example of ethical marketing done right.
  1. Great British Products: Great British Products promotes more sustainable shopping by providing a platform for local businesses. The small British business marketplace consciously uses recycled plastic, and its packaging is now 100% recyclable. They include a breakdown of the exact materials used in their packaging on their website. This demonstrates excellent transparency and all the information is easily accessible to customers. Great British Products also donates a percentage of their profits per purchase to the charity Ecoloji which plants trees on their behalf and invests in climate solution research!
  2. Emiko: Emiko is a  slow fashion company based in Manchester. The brand provides genderless adult and childrenswear using waste or reused materials. By providing long-lasting staples, the brand hopes to promote slower fashion cycles, they also use sustainably sourced textiles from around the UK. Starting as a childrenswear brand in Hong Kong, they have recently opened a new store in Stockport. Demonstrative of the power of sustainable clothing and small businesses!
  3. KihtCollective: Khit is a sustainable and ethical activewear brand based in Manchester. Kiht has two certifications on its website as part of its pledge to ethical and sustainable standards. The brand works with a small and responsible clothing factory in Portugal, and they have committed to using recycled packaging or packaging that is recyclable. One great thing they have pledged is to always buy the wastage from the factory they use (clothes that can’t be sold) and donate them so that their clothing doesn’t end up in a landfill. They also plant a tree for every purchase! Their socials use these key USPs excellently to demonstrate that activewear can be affordable, ethical, and sustainable.

Combatting Greenwashing Going Forward

Avoiding greenwashing is all about providing transparency to your customers. Few businesses can ever be entirely sustainable, but it’s about the effort to make responsible choices that customers care about. If you’re looking for further expert advice on ethical marketing, check out our services at DMT. Our friendly professionals know the latest and in-depth information about marketing practices. You can check out what we could do for your business here!