Real businesses understand the danger of greenwashing
The meaning of “green” and “sustainable” may be in danger of losing their meaning and impact. These terms are diluted as they become buzzwords for marketers seeking to ride the bandwagon fueled by a growing public eco-consciousness.
But not so fast.
“I think there’s a a bit of pushback,” says Brendan May, founder of Planet 2050 and founder of The Robertsbridge Group, a sustainable business advisory firm based in the UK, “Not just from NGOs but even from the advertising regulators saying ‘you really can’t put stuff out there in public that says you’re a green and sustainable company because there’s absolutely no evidence for it.'”
As May explains, this pushback is ultimately a good thing.
“Good green communications is absolutely critical as a mobilizing tool. They mobilize the employees in a business but they also change sectors. …If you’re sitting there watching a competitor going out there with a very bold credible campaign, it does make you think, in your own business, ‘why aren’t we doing this?'”
The fact is that in the supply chain and business-to-business sector being able to demonstrate a legitimate program of sustainability is fast becoming a core criteria for doing business.
“There are companies that have been kicked out of university campuses all over the world because they don’t seem to meet the environmental criteria that student bodies, for example, require.”
May warns of assuming such an example is merely that of “radical activist” students destined to become dyed-in-the-wool conservatives by the time they’re forty. But this is big business, worth billions in revenue.
“If you can’t get your soft drink contract, or your paper contract into thirty universities in the U.S., you’ve got a bit of a commercial problem on your bottom line,” says May.
Being green, or at least greener, and incorporating sustainability as a real component of a successful business strategy is driven by “commercial imperative.” Key to this is actually adopting sustainability first, before attempting to communicate a green message.
“You’ve got to do the work first,” says May. “There’s absolutely no point in premature communication. Never over-claim, never portray yourself as green if you’ve only just started.”
Once there is something substantial to communicate in terms of a real, measurable corporate green campaign,only then it is important to craft an effective green narrative. But for those trying to fool people into believing a false green message, the results will eventually backfire.
“A company that goes out there all guns blazing with a green campaign and you lift the lid on it and see that actually nothing’s going on at all, they’re just going to be blasted out of the water, by the media, by NGOs and by consumers.”