Is Your Brand Truly Sustainable?
Sustainability initiatives are more than just corporate trends. They are significant organizational efforts that help reduce carbon footprints, and save our environment from further destruction. But the problem is, are these initiatives truly sustainable as they claim to be?
At present, becoming a truly sustainable brand is important for businesses. Prioritizing sustainability can result to better reach and more conversions, due to the increasing number of consumers seeking more sustainable products and services. Brand operations will also be more compliant to new business rules and regulations, since government authorities are now incorporating sustainable clauses as part of the law. And most of all, an organization will be doing its part in helping the world recover from harmful environmental impact.
However, while corporate leaders are aware of this significance, only 60% of organizations have clearcut sustainable strategies in practice. Even more alarming is that a small 25% has incorporated sustainability in their respective business models. These numbers show that there is a growing need for organizations to address the huge gap between knowing and implementing sustainable practices.
Unfortunately, these facts put overwhelming pressure on corporations to adapt eco-friendly efforts as soon as possible. As a result, some organizations may resort to painting a façade of a sustainable brand—a deceiving and harmful practice called as greenwashing.
Elements of a Greenwash Brand
The term “greenwashing” is not exactly new. It was first coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who called out organizations who use television, print, and radio media to promote eco-friendly practices even without doing the said initiatives themselves. This practice has never truly left in the list of deceiving corporate strategies, and has been constantly highlighted ever since the time of Westerveld.
In 2021, famous climate activist Greta Thunberg draw significant attention to this issue once more. She tweeted against brands using fantasy campaigns to convince the masses that they are, in fact, eco-friendly when it is simply hiding unsustainable practices.
But what really counts as greenwashing? There are actually seven “eco-friendly” initiatives that may be considered as greenwashing. According to TerraChoice researchers, the following actions are the “seven sins of greenwashing.”
- Hidden trade-off
The hidden trade-off is when an organization claims that a product is eco-friendly based on limited attributes and with no consideration other more important attributes. For example, paper is considered environmental-friendly if it is sustainably sourced. But the production processes for making the said paper may still be harmful to the planet.
- No proof
The no-proof practice happens when a corporation exaggerates claims with no supporting evidence, third-party certifications, or partnerships with reliable environmental organizations. A common example can be a water bottle with a certain percent of recycled content, but has no accessible information in the corporation’s website or the product’s packaging itself.
This practice happens when a company makes broad and poorly defined claims that consumers will definitely misunderstand. All-natural is one of the vaguest label examples. Take note that other harmful elements like mercury and arsenic are naturally occurring. So, customers can be misled to think that all-natural exactly means eco-friendly and safe.
- Making false labels
Perhaps one of the devious acts of greenwashing, making false labels is making third-party certifications or claims when no organization or even endorsements exist. It can be just a fantasy label or description added in the products or services of the corporation, that without research on the customer’s end, it will sound entirely convincing.
The act of irrelevance is making claims that are truthful at some point, but is now considered irrelevant. Some examples would be claiming that an appliance is free from CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) when there are already protocols banning the said elements long ago. It does not make any sense to claim doing so, when it is already a requirement for corporations.
- Lesser of two evils
The practice of focusing on the lesser of two evils is claiming that a product or service is environmental-friendly, when it has no environmental benefits to start with. An example of this is organic cigarettes. Cigarettes with no additives does not make it healthier, and neither does it eliminate the fact that cigarettes contain harmful substances.
An organization commits the act of fibbing when they make claims that are blatantly false. For example, claiming that a corporation does not produce trash. Organizations will produce trash, but it would be more truthful to say that they are doing initiatives to reduce, reuse, and recycle their trash.
How to Avoid Greenwashing
Corporations should definitely avoid these greenwashing practices, since the exposure of these baseless or false claims can significantly decrease the reputation and profits of a corporation. In the age of cancel culture, organizations put themselves in the risk of earning the anger and mistrust of customers, clients, and partners for using underhanded tactics to endorse and buy their products and services.
More importantly, greenwashing contributes to the devastating effects of climate change. Not staying true to sustainable practices makes the current and future generations suffer extreme weather changes, flooding, drought, and super typhoons caused by the environmental impact of harmful business operations.
So, to avoid greenwashing, here are some key actions that organizations can undertake.
- Prioritize transparency in sustainability commitments.
Dedicate a page on your website that highlights your sustainability commitments, and be realistic about them. Sustainability in every aspect of an organization doesn’t happen overnight. It will take time, and leaders should understand that it is okay if it takes months or years to do so. What is important is the corporation shows its customers—through constant updates on their sustainability page—the progress that it has done so far to achieve their sustainability goals.
- Make your sustainability claims as customer-friendly.
Depending on the industry, avoid using jargons and flooding customers with technical terms. Provide simple and concise explanations for such terms if necessary. Also, communicate the specific sustainable benefits of products and services, and go as far as giving context on why the said practices or processes are sustainable. For example, give the situation regarding the oil or cotton industry. Then, provide specific numbers of measurement on how sustainable the product is. An example would be to say that a t-shirt is 60% organic, rather than just labelling it as organic alone.
- Seek sustainability certifications and partnerships.
To make sustainability efforts more achievable, it is better to ask for help for organizations that have sustainable initiatives in the first place. They can help corporate leaders incorporate reasonable and sustainable strategies in their business models, and help guide them on providing sustainable resources in their supply chains. Aside from this, corporations can also seek legitimate sustainability certifications from these partnerships and learn more about which areas they need to improve on.
- Listen to the customers.
It is all right if an organization does not have all the answers to become a sustainable brand. But they can find the answers through their customers by taking in customer feedback. So, in addition to showcasing sustainability initiatives, give customers the voice to also share their suggestions on how the brand can be more sustainable. In this way, the organization would be able to build trust with their customers while also ensuring that their products and services are becoming more and more sustainable than before.
- Engage with the organization as a whole.
Sustainable practices should not only be known and practiced for the sake of the customer. The organization’s team—from the executives to its employees—should be aware of the said practices, and also have sustainability initiatives outlined for their respective departments. It is significant that every aspect of the sustainability is also embedded in the business DNA, so that it would be easier for the entire organization to inculcate sustainable processes in their products and services.
Making a truly sustainable brand does not just benefit a corporation, but also the world we live in. There may be roadblocks in achieving sustainability, given sustainable practices and initiatives continue to change over time. But with due diligence and clearcut sustainability goals, corporations can make profits, stay ahead of the competition, and achieve business longevity without risking the future of the society.