Sustainable Marketing or Greenwashing: What’s The Difference?

Ever wondered what the difference is between sustainable marketing and greenwashing? As a sustainable marketing agency ourselves, we can help break it down for you.

According to research by Google, 72% of UK consumers say that having a brand’s values reflect their own beliefs is a factor in what they buy, meaning it’s certainly no secret that talking openly about sustainability is a powerful tool when it comes to marketing. Unfortunately, many companies have been guilty of misleading consumers with greenwashing, making it tricky to distinguish between this and more genuine, sustainable marketing. So, without further ado, let’s dive into what these two terms actually mean.

What is Greenwashing?

The term ‘greenwashing’ refers to companies capitalising on topics around sustainability. This discourse has become increasingly popular in the past decade and with this comes ample marketing opportunities. While genuine efforts to partake in these discussions are welcome, many companies have turned to misleading ‘green’ messaging that doesn’t actually reflect their practices as a company behind the scenes.

What is Sustainable Marketing?

Hubspot defines sustainable marketing as the ‘promotion of environmentally and socially responsible products or services’. Having said this, brands who aren’t founded wholly on sustainability can still utilise sustainable marketing, so long as the messages that are extracted are legitimate. For example, a company may need help running a charity or environmental campaign as part of their CSR. It’s all about promoting a mission, rather than a product.

Familiarity with the Green Claims Code

A truly sustainable marketing strategy will follow the Green Claims Code to a tee. This has now been formally introduced with legal penalties, which means greenwashing will have more serious consequences. When promoting environmental or sustainability claims, businesses are legally required to use clear and unambiguous language, as well as having to consider the full lifecycle of a service or product before making such claims, amongst other things. A sustainable marketing agency will be well acquainted with these types of marketing practices.

Show don’t tell

Transparency is key when it comes to advertising in the sustainability sphere. Increasingly, consumers are more wary of what they are buying into and will be on the hunt for the reassurance they need before purchasing. Typically, sustainable marketing will place an emphasis on stats and figures, while greenwashing claims tend to feature generic language that can’t necessarily be traced or backed up. Customers need to have the full picture to allow them to make an informed decision that aligns with their ethics before taking the plunge.

Pay attention to the business model or industry

Evidence is more important than baseless claims that skew the truth. Sometimes companies will place focus on a single statistic to promote a certain product or service, despite the fact that their overall business model is wholly unsustainable. An example may be a fast fashion brand promoting a new ‘sustainable range’, which ultimately is greenwashing if they continue to churn out hundreds of thousands of garments every week. Companies such as SHEIN and H&M have been found guilty of this in recent years.

Long-term value

Another thing to consider is whether the company making ‘green’ statements has a mission that seeks to provide long-term value to society. This could be anything from recycling solutions to help the planet to an ongoing ‘do-good’ charity initiative. Essentially, is value a priority over profit? A sustainable marketing agency will collaborate with companies seeking to spread powerful messages in these sectors using marketing that adheres to the Green Claims Code.

Ambiguous language

Language is an important element when distinguishing between greenwashing and sustainable marketing. Sometimes, the more a business uses buzzwords like ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco-friendly’, as opposed to supplying facts or figures backed up by science, the more likely it is that a business could be guilty of greenwashing. If a company can’t provide detailed information to back up their claims, it may be best to steer clear.

This list is by no means all inclusive, but it’s a good place to start if you’re wanting to establish the key differences between sustainable marketing and greenwashing. If you want to learn more or need help with sustainable marketing, feel free to reach out! 

Sources:

https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/sustainable-marketing

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-59119693

https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en-gb/consumer-insights/consumer-trends/trending-visual-stories/sustainability-uk-consumers


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