Green Messaging and the Proof in the Pudding

We recently attended a Green Marketing webinar by i2live and wanted to share some of the highlights with our readers.  Aleen Bayard, Managing Partner, Footprint Partners presented, “Green Messaging Strategies: Attracting Consumers without Green Washing Your Brand” and discussed how communication is a key tool organizations can use to bolster the commitments and activities underway to support sustainable operations.  

Aleen made the point that you can be found guilty of greenwashing by consumer and other stakeholders--even if you are operating with the best of intentions -- simply by not understanding their perspective and understanding of green marketing. “Against a backdrop of confusion, allegations of greenwashing, green blushing, and in many cases, lack of information, the need to develop clear, accurate and actionable messages to drive sustainability becomes even more critical. In many cases, the sustainability commitment has become front and center of an organization’s brand and reputation.”  

So how does an organization ensure its marketing material is both compelling and accurate?  Almost always, the answer boils down to ensuring you have documented proof and can transparently report on your progress and actions.  Always be prepared to back your claims up, because the proof is in the pudding.

If you are looking to learn more about green messaging and the associated risks of greenwashing, we would encourage you to download our free white paper, “Green Marketing: Think Before You Act” on this topic and more -- to include the important role of standards and certifications in green marketing, analytical frameworks, and green marketing tools as they are most appropriate for each company.  In the meantime, we summed up a few takeaways we heard during the webinar:

Ecolabel Index as a Research Tool is a tremendous resource for global companies because it provides insight into the different labels out there to support your green message; it lets you filter by industries, research, and compare selected labels, and access relevant news and independent analysis.   Ecolabel Index is the largest global directory of ecolabels so it’s kind of your one-stop-shop for gaining an understanding of what’s out there and what industries are using what labels -- it currently tracks 431 ecolabels in 246 countries, and 25 industry sectors.

Greenwashing Index as a Consumer Insights Tool is a Wikipedia-type site for consumers to post greenwashing claims, giving you an idea of what your target audience might see as greenwashing even if your statement is sound.  It’s organized by industry and you can get a sample of what consumers feel are misleading statements; this is a great way to get inside the minds of your consumers before you get too far along in your messaging.  This can be very useful in the early stages of developing your green messaging, and can help to avoid greenwashing claims even if your message is accurate.

Green Guides from the FTC

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has published “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims,” commonly known as the Green Guides.  This set of “Green Guides” -- which were last revised in 1998 -- was created for companies to follow in their environmental marketing practices and developed from the perspective of the consumer.  The goal being to help businesses better align claims with consumer expectations, so taking a look and familiarizing with what is outlined might not hurt when you are on your way to developing your green message. 

In the Michael Best & Friedrich LLP article, “FTC Updates “Green Guides” to Environmentally Friendly Marketing” the general principles of the guide are outlined further:

[They] set forth four general principles for companies making environmental claims in their advertising, marketing or other promotional materials. First, any qualifications and disclosures necessary to avoid misleading consumers must be clear, prominent and understandable. Second, claims must present distinctions between benefits of the product, the packaging and any associated service. For example, if a package is labeled with the claim “recyclable” without further elaboration, the claim could be considered deceptive if any part of either the package or the product cannot be recycled. Third, a claim must not overstate an environmental attribute. Thus, for example, if a product is advertised as “100% biodegradable,” it must be biodegradable within a reasonably short period of time in landfill conditions or the claim must be sufficiently qualified to indicate the limited nature of the conditions tested. Additionally, in order to claim that a product is “green,” companies must be able to substantiate such a claim with life-cycle evidence demonstrating an absence of negative environmental impact from the product’s production, use and disposal. Finally, comparative claims must be presented in a way that makes the basis for the comparison clear.

Also in the works, albeit since October 2010, are some proposed revisions to current areas that include: general environmental benefits, certifications and seals of approvals, degradable, compostable, ozone-safe/ozone friendly, recyclable, free-of/non-toxic, and made with renewable materials.  There are some proposed new areas that include: made with renewable energy and carbon offsets.

In summary, before you get too far with your green marketing efforts we encourage you to start out by reading through “Green Marketing: Think Before You Act” and then take an inventory of your current claims.  Start taking a hard look at how authentic these claims are and how they can be easily verified; this might involve internal audits, external standards and certifications, and even tests with consumers.  Adopt certification where and whenever possible, these are your safeguards!  And always stand prepared with an easily accessible report of your data which is updated on a regular basis.

As always, feel free to contact us if you would like further assistance taking next steps, we are always happy to help!