How Greenwashing Will Kill your Brand and How to Avoid It

You’re likely to have heard of the term ‘greenwashing’. The word itself was coined in the 1980s by New York environmentalist Jay Westervelt, who questioned the practice of putting up notices in hotel rooms encouraging the reuse of towels to “save the environment”. 

Westervelt’s contention then was that merely asking guests to reuse towels didn’t do much to reduce energy waste or protect the planet. Ever since then, brands have been accused of ‘greenwashing’ when they have shown signs of caring more about being seen to be environmentally friendly, than putting in place genuinely ‘green’ practices. 

But greenwashing isn’t merely something that brands are advised to avoid to guard against damage to their reputation and profits. That’s because the wider effects it can have on consumers and the broader green movement can actually heighten the dangers to our Earth. That, in turn, should make deceptive ‘green’ marketing an even greater no-no for your business. 

Here are just some of the potentially terrible consequences of greenwashing: 

It fosters customer scepticism and distrust 

Every consumer who makes the mindful decision to use green and natural products is great news for our Earth. But in today’s world, news travels fast, and greenwashing brands can be quickly and easily exposed for their hypocrisy. 

If – as is eventually likely – your consumers discover that you misled them about your brand’s eco-friendly credentials, they won’t necessarily merely lose trust in your own product or service. 

That’s because they may become more distrustful even of brands that are genuinely doing their bit for our planet. As a result, they might fear that their efforts aren’t making a difference, and give up on trying to support ‘green’ companies altogether. 

It causes real harm to the environment 

The broader consequences of greenwashing can be truly toxic, in more ways than one. If, for instance, one brand discovers that another brand is successfully greenwashing its target audience to boost sales and profits, they may also stop trying to improve their own environmental and sustainability practices. This can lead to further brand reputational harm. 

It wreaks avoidable havoc with your reputation and sales 

Products that are marketed as environmentally friendly also often carry a premium price. Customers are often tolerant of this if they feel that their extra spending is actually helping the Earth. But no customer wants to be taken advantage of, either. 

When customers discover that your supposed eco-friendly credentials were ultimately little more than clever marketing, you can expect them to revolt – and revolt hard.

In our now deeply interconnected and information-rich world, it’s easier than ever to check the substance – or lack of it – behind eye-catching claims. Greenwashing could therefore land your brand in a real reputational crisis, such that it would have cost your business less to have simply made a genuine effort to be environmentally friendly to begin with. 

So, how can you ensure you don’t greenwash? 

The following steps will help you to promote your brand’s genuine green credentials, without greenwashing: 

  1. Always back up your ‘eco-friendly’ claims. Don’t merely state that your business’s product or service is good for the environment – also provide proof for it from a reliable third party. 
  2. Be specific. Some brands presenting themselves as green can get into trouble through the use of vague or general terms that customers can easily misinterpret. Don’t say your products are ‘all-natural’, for example, without making clear why this is good for the environment – if, indeed, it makes any real difference at all. 
  3. Don’t offer a hidden ‘catch’. You might be tempted to advertise a product as eco-friendly on the basis of recycled cardboard being used for the packaging, for instance. However, this could be regarded as greenwashing if other aspects of the product, such as the manufacturing process, are harmful to the environment. 
  4. Don’t include misleading labels. Sure, you might not be technically ‘lying’ if a product label includes a logo that looks suspiciously like some form of formal certification. But the fact is, brands sometimes do this to give a false impression of reputability – so avoid it. Instead, seek out actual certification from a reputable third party. 
  5. Tell the truth. Don’t make deceptive, misleading or exaggerated claims about what your product or service does for the planet, and don’t make outright false and unsubstantiated statements, either. As we’ve touched on above, this can bite back at your brand faster than you anticipate. If your brand still has work to do to be as environmentally friendly as it could be – as is the case for almost all brands – be honest about this. Audiences will appreciate it. 

Offblak Doing it Well

Offblak are a tea brand that offer a refreshing angle on what tea could be. They are an example of how brands can be honest and proactive in their approach to being more "green".

They describe their tea as "All the health benefits you need without having to give up or lose out on taste or excitement." Complementing the healthy lifestyle aspect of their brand is their statement about recycling.

In their statement, they explain their journey to reducing plastics and other materials that aren't readily recyclable. On top of making a commitment to change their packaging they also offer a free service that allows the customer to send back their used tea sachets so that Offblak can ensure they don't end up in a landfill.

To encourage more recycling, they even offer 100 loyalty points when you send back packaging for recycling!

Not only is their statement honest and transparent, but they're also actively going above and beyond to be greener.

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being green, but doing so without misleading anybody can also reap major rewards (we may have made that last bit of the lyric up). Contact Underwaterpistol’s Shopify CRO experts today to discuss how we can help to realise the full potential of your own brand’s web presence.