How sustainable are 'green' slogans?

16 September 2022

The 83-year-old founder and owner of the sustainable clothing brand Patagonia announced last week that he will donate his fortune worth $ 1.2 billion to a foundation that fights climate change. "The earth is our only shareholder," it said. It is a remarkable and admirable decision at a time when many companies are under attack for greenwashing. Important brands now want to do something about that.

Consumers are increasingly sensitive to climate issues. Their purchasing decisions are influenced by the will to have a positive impact on the environment. For this reason, companies and brands are putting extra effort into sustainability with a tidal wave of environmental claims in their marketing and communication.

But these "green" and "sustainable" messages are increasingly giving rise to criticism and suspicions of "greenwashing". These are alleged claims about the environmental qualities of a product or service, or the impact they have on the environment. These are often not well-founded, contain incorrect information, are exaggerated, or the message is unclear, ambiguous or inaccurate. In some cases, important information is withheld.

The marketing world is increasingly aware that such claims undermine consumers' credibility and trust in brands. It is difficult for the consumer to judge the correctness of the environmental claims and therefore relies on the information of the marketers. That is why it is important that marketers already have solid evidence to substantiate them before they formulate their claims.

In this sense, the recent initiative of the UBA, the professional association of the most important brands in our country, to ban "greenwashing" is only to be welcomed. Six concrete principles to avoid greenwashing in environmental claims have just been formulated:
  1. Fairness: Claims should not be misleading and it should be clear what they are based on.
  2. Proof: Marketers must be able to provide reliable evidence for all claims that can be considered objective and substantiatible.
  3. Information: Marketing messages should not withhold crucial information. In some cases, marketers can make important information accessible in a different way.
  4. Life cycle: Marketers should base general environmental claims on the full life cycle of their product or activity.
  5. Comparisons: Products that are compared in marketing messages must meet the same needs or be intended for the same use.
  6. Legal order: An advertisement must contain all information about the environmental impact of the product being advertised, as required by legislation or by the self-regulatory codes of the JEP (Jury for Ethical Practices).
If marketers strictly apply these principles in their campaigns, they will regain the trust of consumers where it may have been lost in the past.