Greenwashing – the dirty truth


By Faye Harris-Frost, head of PR

This graphic is a quote from the author, Faye. It reads: "When everyone is talking about sustainability, do you you make your voice heard without resorting to inflated claims and token gestures?"

With some companies going to great lengths to say the right things to the right people about their environmental stance but falling short of taking any real action, so-called ‘greenwashing’ is on the rise. But what exactly does this mean and more importantly, how can you be sure to avoid making the same mistake?

Some marketeers may call it greenwashing, others may talk about adding a ‘green sheen’ but both terms essentially refer to any form of marketing activity that deliberately overstates a company’s or a product’s positive environmental credentials. With CSR, ESG, sustainability and the ‘green agenda’ big news, this raises an important ethical question about how transparent and honest marketing communications should be. Greenwashing can have serious implications and this has led to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) proposing new regulations that aim to eradicate misleading marketing messages around products and services.

At Harris, we also take the issue of greenwashing very seriously as even the smallest amount of ‘spin’ leaves us feeling more than a little queasy!

As construction marketing specialists, we appreciate the responsibility we have and the importance of providing clear, accurate and accessible information at all times, but especially when helping our clients promote their products. Perhaps it also helps that we’re a plain-speaking Yorkshire agency. So, before you add greenwashing to your blue-sky thinking, here are some of our no-nonsense tips to keep your PR and marketing campaigns on track.

Support your claims

Everybody wants to save the world – but do they really? It may sound obvious but exaggerated and unsupported claims are the root cause of greenwashing. Whether you are looking to join in the debate about sustainability on social media, add a bold slogan to your promotional material or discuss how you are reducing your carbon footprint within your press communications, vague throwaway comments about the environmental efficiencies of your products or services should be avoided.

Any claim you make should be based on fact and supported by evidence and documentation that is easily accessible and always up to date. We always recommend you review and if needed, renew, any customer-facing collateral such as your website, brochures, or technical data sheets to ensure that the information is accurate and any claims you make can be substantiated.

Avoid jargon

Although greenwashing is a result of overstating your claims, another common mistake that many companies make is to overcomplicate things. Ironically, this usually stems from the fear of appearing to be greenwashing! Even with solid sustainability credentials, a fantastic product or a new energy-saving initiative, you will not generate much interest if your target market doesn’t understand what you are doing.

Transparency is key to any conversations about sustainability but that doesn’t mean you have to throw all your facts, figures, test certificates and carbon calculations at everything you do. The trick here is creating an authentic tone of voice and to present information to your audience in an appropriate way to build trust and engagement. And as long as you make it easy for your customers to find the finer detail, a lighter touch is often the best route to piquing curiosity. We’ve worked with many of our clients to do just this by developing an overall campaign message that can be adapted for use across multiple marketing channels. When you have a credible story and facts to back it up, don’t be afraid to be creative with your messaging.

Cut through the noise

When everyone is talking about sustainability, how do you make your voice heard without resorting to inflated claims and token gestures? It’s great that so many companies within the construction industry are seriously looking at ways to reduce the environmental impact of their products and services but this does provide some healthy competition!

Before implementing campaigns for our clients, we always help them drill down into detail of what it is they really want to say to their customers. This allows us to suggest new ways of communicating these key messages, whether that’s creating a video, organising a press visit, devising a dedicated social media campaign or even looking at specific branding for a new product or initiative. A marketing campaign based around sustainability needs to be sustainable, so consider how to make these messages a core part of your identity rather than seeing it as a standalone sales technique.

Look at bigger picture

The construction industry is one of the world’s biggest producers of CO2 emissions and the recent cold snap and rising cost of energy bills have highlighted the need for both new and existing buildings to perform to a much higher standard of energy-efficiency. Key to achieving this is to take a holistic view, looking at embedded carbon within the supply chain.

When communicating your messages, you must also take this bigger picture into account. For example, is your product super energy-efficient when in use but energy-intensive during its manufacture? Do you have a large carbon footprint when it comes to how you transport your products? It’s important not to skim over the details or try to hide any of the elements of your service to try and appear more environmentally-conscious than you are. Customers want the full facts and to be able to make an informed choice but knowing how to achieve this balance is a skill.

That’s why it’s equally as important to be open and honest with your marketing agency as only then can they give you the best advice.

Educate from within

Your marketing messages should never only be external – if you don’t communicate effectively to your own employees and colleagues, your marketing activity will never ring true. One of the core principles held by the Harris PR team is that any customer-facing content should support the conversations you are already having, or want to have, and you should never put ‘marketing’ into a silo that your other key departments don’t have an awareness of. As well as holding meetings with people from different disciplines, whether that’s sales, technical or operations, an internal communication strategy is worth considering if you are looking to position your company as a champion or even a pioneer of sustainability. Increasing awareness is how the real change will happen. Afterall, sustainability is much more than a marketing term – it needs to be a core company value.

If you would like more advice on how to better communicate your company’s environmental strategies, why not let us help?

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