Having green credentials has become big business. According to the Economist, over 40 green firms have seen their share prices triple since the start of 2019, fueled by growing demand from investors. And with the IPCC this week sounding another grim prediction on the impacts of climate change if we don’t take action, consumers are more attune to this issue than ever.
Already, 60% of global consumers are reporting making more environmentally friendly, sustainable, or ethical purchases since the beginning of the pandemic and that sustainability has become more of a concern for them.
So, it’s no wonder that businesses are looking at ways to improve their climate footprint and share their green credentials with their customers and prospects.
But how can brands ensure that their genuine efforts are not perceived as greenwashing? Earlier this year we saw big brands like HSBC get it wrong, leading to Extinction Rebellion smashing their Canary Wharf branch windows in protest at their ESG investment practices.
Here are four considerations for brands wanting to communicate their green credentials authentically, without falling foul of greenwashing.
If you want to communicate about your green credentials, this needs to be authentic. That means making sure to back up your claims with concrete actions or proof points, not just communications efforts.
Brands that do this well, often put climate issues at the heart of their business model, rather than adding it as an afterthought.
Brands that do this well often put climate issues at the heart of their business model, rather than adding it as an afterthought. For example, investment apps like newly launched Clim8 or tickr are putting sustainability at the heart of their business model, by making it easy for consumers to access ESG funds.
Sustainability can’t just be a communications issue or a trend. Consider how all parts of the business contribute to your message and whether you can authentically be perceived as green if scrutinised by customers or media. Also consider your current and future employees when communicating around sustainability. Nearly 40% of millennials say they have chosen a job because of company sustainability, and this trend is set to grow.
If your green credentials are strong, gather the evidence and share it openly. Facts and stats on your website or other owned channels reassure your audience that your claims are genuine and backed up by real data. The more detailed and specific you can be on how your business is helping the climate, the better.
It also helps to keep the language simple and relatable. Complex sentences and jargon make it hard to understand what’s being said and could be perceived as trying to obscure the truth.
For example, one of our clients, Igloo Energy, was able to stand out in a crowded market of renewable energy providers by encouraging customers not to use their energy. The simple message ‘the greenest unit of energy is the one you don’t use’ resonated clearly, and helped consumers understand the part Igloo played in the green energy debate.
Photo credit: Igloo Energy
Think about the language you use to communicate around your sustainability credentials. Terms like “green” or “eco” have come under scrutiny recently as they interpreted in different ways by different organisations and have no formal definition. If you’re sharing initiatives with journalists, think carefully about how your language will stand up to scrutiny – again, data and hard facts are key.
Even if your organisation is taking steps to be greener but there is still a long way to go, don’t shy away from this. Open and honest communication about the journey you’re on inspires trust in your efforts and shows you are being transparent.
Consider established third parties who can offer independent verification or certification to lend weight to your communications. The Carbon Trust Standard or B Corporation are widely respected organisations who offer accreditations but research the ones that are most credible and relevant to your industry. Independently audited Environmental Product Declarations or EPDs could also help add weight to your own data – but can be more difficult to secure.
This may soon become a legal requirement in the UK for the financial services sector. MPs are currently urging the FCA to scope out green labelling for financial products to ensure customers aren’t being misled.
As the climate crisis intensifies, brands that don’t have a position on sustainability will be conspicuous in their absence – and those that get it right will reap the rewards of customer and employee advocacy.
Communication has a huge role to play in a brand’s sustainability efforts being seen as genuine or greenwashing. This doesn’t mean brands should shy away from communicating around it. In fact, as the climate crisis intensifies, brands that don’t have a position on sustainability will be conspicuous in their absence – and those that get it right will reap the rewards of customer and employee advocacy.