by Sharmel Ali firstname.lastname@example.org, csr-asia.com
As environmental awareness is increasing in Asia, so is the rise of “Greenwashing” – i.e. making misleading claims or statements on the environmental credentials of products or processes.
Whilst consumers in this part of the world might not yet be as cynical as their Western counterparts, smart companies should look ahead and ensure that they get it right, to avoid future loss of consumer trust and confidence. However, not all ‘greenwash’ is deliberate, but is based on companies misunderstanding of terminologies or good practice. And consumers are still interested in bona-fide green credentials, so how can companies get it right:
- Do the homework –Ensure that the green claims of the business, product or service are true and consistent with wider business activities. Example: A large cosmetics company were promoting their fund-raising for breast cancer research, but were attacked by activists for including carcinogenic substances in its products
- Be honest and humble – Nothing is perfect and honesty goes a long way. If the business or company is not 100%, don’t pretend it is. By acknowledging the areas of products or business that are not yet green and show commitment towards addressing some of the concerns, there is a better chance that stakeholders will trust the claims that are made. A small modifying word can often do the trick. Example: Carlsberg’s longstanding “Probably the best beer in the world” – is almost impossible to dispute
- Provide documentation – The information and further/relevant details should be made accessible to the public. Are green claims certified based on established eco-labels, methods or experts? Companies should make it easier for customers to be able to understand and check on green claims being made. Example: M&S have an extensive website documenting and explaining all in-store claims
- Consult stakeholders – Engaging with stakeholders, both internal and external, in a dialogue on green marketing – is invaluable. It shows the company’s good intent, willingness to want to improve and its concern for the views of their stakeholders. This in itself is not only good practice but inherently a good branding opportunity. Companies can take the opportunity to find out if their green claims are acceptable to their staff, suppliers, customers, NGOs and the community and check on whether they are on the right track or seen to be greenwashing. Example: Several alcohol producers now have stakeholder panels who comment on whether their advertisement is ethical
An honest green story starts from inside the company, not from a marketing idea that a company tries to spin. Starting from an honest place does not mean that companies have to think small. Greenwash isn’t worth it – the longer term repercussions of dishonesty in ‘false’ claims without actual substance are more negative than positive at a time where consumers are becoming more aware, and where information is easily accessible. If a company seeks to jump on the green bandwagon and ultimately improve their green standing, branding and reputation – it is far better and more rewarding to take an honest, transparent and realistic approach in alignment with an actual proactive interest in understanding the real issues and in addressing them.