Sustainable marketing starts with the eco friendly development and delivery of products and services and then sharing your commitment to sustainability transparently and honestly with your employees, customers and partners. When considering how to convey your commitments to your stakeholders, it is important to understand the right and wrong way to do so. This article includes some best practices and tips to avoid greenwashing and most accurately convey your sustainability commitments and achievements.
Trendy to be Sustainable
Businesses across the board are shifting to sustainability to lessen their impact on the planet and meet consumer demand. It is estimated that 87% of consumers consider the environmental and social impact of products and manufacturing processes when they buy. This has caused a revolution in the business from the norm of high production at the lowest cost for maximum gain to now better, longer lasting, more ethical products.
Businesses that are not making the switch to this better way of operating are being left in the dust by companies that are making significant, public strides in the sustainability of their products and operations. Though it is important for businesses to become more eco friendly both for their own success and that of the planet, sometimes it can lead to being overly ambitious and hopeful. The intention to be green is excellent; however, if not done intentionally with transparency, it can become greenwashing.
What is Greenwashing?
Although the term “greenwashing” has only been a buzzword for a few years, the practice itself started in the 1980s with oil company Chevron being one of the first to do it. In the mid-1980s, Chevron was running radio and TV ads on how they were a green oil company and helped the environment, when in fact they were violating the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and dumping oil into protected areas.
The term was coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westervelt, who pointed out that the hotels which encouraged guests to reuse towels did little to reduce energy waste or help the environment. Greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice where brands promote their products or production processes as being green without providing actual evidence, to boost their public image. Greenwashing is one of the most criticized marketing tactics and although sometimes business owners do it unintentionally, it can have huge repercussions for a brand’s reputation.
A company cannot claim to be green when they only meet minimal standards. This is dishonest to customers and employees and can prevent important environmental impact mitigation strategies from taking place. Sustainability is not just saying you are green because you use a recyclable product, it is ensuring from cradle to grave that the materials and processes you use have the lowest possible environmental and social impact.
Do’s and Don’ts of Sustainability Marketing
Here is a good playbook for the do’s and don’ts of sustainable marketing:
How to be Transparent to Stakeholders with your Sustainability Initiatives
The best way to be transparent with your employees is by involving them from the beginning. This can be accomplished by creating a Green Team of employees who take part in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of your outlined sustainability initiatives. Additionally, it is valuable to host a company-wide roll-out including all members of the company, not just the green team. This will establish a green culture and create accountability across the workplace, both for the company leaders to properly and fully execute their plan and for employees to hold themselves responsible. Additionally, release regular reports to allow employees to track progress and adjust their individual practices.
Learn more about how to create a Green Team in GBB’s blog article: Creating a Green Team, Executive Guide to Becoming a Sustainable Business
Oftentimes, investors choose to provide funds to companies because they believe in their purpose and impact. If your company gains investors based upon your sustainability merits, it is absolutely essential you follow through with your promised goals, otherwise there is risk of fraud and losing important investments. Ensure that there is clarity on both sides, in what investors expect of you and of your intended initiatives and outcomes.
Sustainable sourcing, sometimes referred to as green procurement, has become commonplace in most state and federal contract bids. These federal government and municipal organizations are requiring their suppliers and vendors to be sustainable. Many private sector companies issuing Requests For Proposals or contract bids also require or prefer purchasing from sustainable suppliers. They often require some sort of green, environmental or sustainability certification that demonstrates the bidders’ products, services or business practices are built and delivered in a sustainable way.
Learn more about sustainable sourcing and contract bids in GBB’s blog article: Sustainable Sourcing, How to Demonstrate Sustainability and Win more Contract Bides
Oftentimes, companies intending to be green offer products labeling them as sustainable with hidden trade-offs. Something may be a seemingly more sustainable material, such as a compostable container, but if facilities aren’t in place to properly dispose of them then they end up being just as unsustainable as the alternative. Additionally, there is little regulation on what products can be labelled iterations of “eco friendly” or “green.” This allows companies to cut corners and convey to the consumer base that they are sustainable when that may not be the case.
In order to accurately convey your sustainability initiatives to consumers, you must commit to complete transparency with your marketing strategies. You must only convey your company and it’s products to be as sustainable as they actually are to avoid dishonesty and an unfavorable brand image. Additionally, if your company is doing a lot to be more sustainable, you must share that with your customers. Some companies are transitioning to more environmentally conscious operations and inadequately conveying their progress to the public. Both of these situations can be helped by releasing regular sustainability reports, having a sustainability page and advertising certifications on your website, product labels, and social media accounts.
Sustainability Marketing Examples
Digital Impetus is a Toronto-based GBB member that offers life sciences companies a robust platform for virtualizing team meetings, co-author working groups, training sessions, advisory boards, conferences, and much more. Through a diverse range of synchronous and asynchronous online tools, their clients are able to facilitate discussions, educate, collect insight, and share data reliably without the need to travel.
Here is how they advertise their GBB membership on their website:
Here is how they display their commitment to sustainability:
Using GBB Certification and Membership to Promote Transparency
Green Business Bureau members continue to amaze the world with their commitment to sustainability and their innovative green and social responsibility initiatives. They lead by example and demonstrate how business can be used as a platform for good. All members are regular companies with businesses to run, and they all do their part in becoming greener, more socially responsible and thoughtful. They’ve created great greener businesses and demonstrated their commitment to sustainability with tangible actions and results. Sharing their accomplishments helps them celebrate their success and earn the business benefits they deserve.
Here’s how to use your GBB membership and promote transparency to all stakeholders:
- Use the new GBB EcoProfile that is designed specifically to enable businesses of any size to transparently share their profile, certification level, EcoScore, commitments, and accomplishments with the public.
- Answer the assessment questions as truthfully and completely as possible.
- The purpose of the GBB software is transparency, not just getting the highest certification possible. If a question or initiative does not apply to your company or you intend to do it but have not yet completed it, don’t check it!
- Use your GBB EcoProfile to show and tell your complete sustainability story.
- Update completed initiatives, commitments, and accomplishments regularly.
- Direct employees, customers, and stakeholders to your EcoProfile so they can track your progress.
- Display the GBB seal and your certification on your website.
It is important to be transparent with all stakeholders to preserve brand image and showcase you are actually committed to sustainability. There are several standard Do’s and Don’ts to refer to to prevent greenwashing and accurately portray your sustainability commitments. Each stakeholder group including employees, investors, contract bid holders, and customers require different types of messaging and transparency. The verified Green Business Bureau EcoProfile and EcoScore allows for all stakeholders to track your sustainability progress and see your achievements. Proper sustainability marketing will allow your company to be transparent with the public about sustainability and tell your full story.
About the Author
GBB Green Ambassador
Leah Mowery is a content writer for the Green Business Bureau who is passionate about using creativity and storytelling to relay the importance of sustainability. She served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nepal where she discovered a love for sustainable development. She fostered this interest in her Master’s in Global Sustainability program with a concentration in Climate Change at the University of South Florida. She enjoys painting, reading and all forms of outdoor recreation.