Green Marketing vs Greenwashing: What Companies Need to Know
By Dorian Martin, Last updated: 2022-07-25 (originally published on 2020-03-11)
Enter the term “greenwashing.” In short, it is an attempt on the part of companies to present themselves as eco-friendly, when, in fact, they are not so much. This is contrasted with “green marketing,” authentic and honest presentations of true eco-friendliness on the part of companies, usually in their manufacturing processes.
Why Green Marketing is Important
Today’s consumer demands sustainability and environmentally responsible businesses that support these demands in real ways. Considering that millennials and Gen Z’ers are highly focused on “going green,” companies must look at their practices and determine what they need to change if they intend to appeal to these two huge consumer segments. These generations want to see recycling, replacement of resources that are used, clean processes in manufacturing, avoidance of potentially harmful ingredients and overuse of non-renewable resources, even down to the amount of water used in production processes.
Companies that can genuinely “prove” they are eco-friendly will capture far more business than those that cannot.
Enter “greenwashing.” In order to appeal to a large and growing environmentally-conscious consumer, there are many companies out there who have no plans to become genuinely eco-friendly but choose, rather to present themselves as such through a variety of “sketchy” claims and labels, hoping to “fool” their targeted audiences and, in some cases, even violating laws.
How to Show Your Authenticity in Green Marketing
If you are genuinely engaging in eco-friendly policies and practices, you should engage in the following green marketing strategies:
Tell the Truth
You may have some great eco-friendly practices that you want to present and even “brag” about. But don’t exaggerate, and don’t present any practices that you are not really engaging in. Ultimately, the truth will come out, and you will be “trashed” all over social media and other review sites.
Provide Clear Proof – Show Don’t Tell
Just how do you do this? In many ways. First, you can produce photos and videos of what you do. Are you recycling materials to use in your products? Show that process. Are you participating in the replacement of resources that you are using? How exactly are you doing that? Are you cleaning and re-using the water you use in your production process? Are you donating to environmental organisations? Have you taken a disposable product and turned it into a reusable one? Are you buying raw materials from companies that are eco-friendly and paying a fair wage to their workers?
All of this proof appeals to consumers, especially when it is in visual form, and when you publish your stories on social media and your website.
Even if you are not producing a product, you can still appeal to consumers by participating in sustainability efforts. Tim McClendon, Marketing Director for the , says there is a need for all businesses to participate in green efforts: “We are not in the business of using up natural resources or producing products in environmentally-conscious ways. But we do participate in saving our planet by donating a percentage of our revenue to environmental causes, especially ocean cleanup and reforestation efforts. And we encourage users of our sites to do the same, if only in small ways.”
You have customers who value what you do to sustain the planet. But are there additional things you can do? Why not ask those customers for suggestions about additional practices you could incorporate? They may come up with some good ideas. You could even run a contest with rewards for the best suggestions that you could actually implement.
Be Very Active on Social Media
These platforms are the perfect places to spread your brand’s commitment to being eco-friendly. And if you have that visual proof, your followers will share your stories with their friends. You can also follow environmental organisations and participate in discussions about best practices, explaining what you do in the process.
Find the Right Balance
If you spend too much time focusing your social media on your eco-friendly practices and too little time on your products and their value, you may arouse suspicion. Plus, remember, you are in business to make money, not save the planet all by yourself. Be certain to find the right balance among content that tells who you are, what value you bring to your customers, and how you strive to be eco-friendly. Your eco-friendly practices are only a part of your brand building.
What Constitutes Greenwashing?
Here are the marketing tactics that are typical of companies engaging in greenwashing. Avoid them at all costs:
Being Vague: Terms like “all natural” or “organic” or “we recycle” are too generic. If a company doesn’t back them up with real proof, the terms are meaningless. You need to back up any claims you make with evidence.
Touting the Legally Required: A company may boast that it uses no chlorofluorocarbons in its production. This is a meaningless claim because they are already banned by law.
Fake Labels and/or Certifications: Placing “seals” on a website or “labels” that appear to be from third-party endorsements is a big “no-no.” Putting a label with some kind of image and the words “eco-preferred” is clearly misleading, if not typical of a type of false advertising.
Greenwashing is clearly unethical. What’s more, it can rise to the level of breaking the law. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for example, has very strict guidelines on what marketers can claim regarding being “green.” Companies that deliberately make misleading claims can be prosecuted and face big fines. Green marketing, on the other hand, is honest and provable. Be certain this is what you are engaging in.
Dorian Martin is a professional writer with huge experience in business-related topics. He likes to attend conferences and keep himself updated with every new release in terms of marketing, business management, and entrepreneurship. He is a senior writer at and and content editor at .
This article does not constitute legal advice.
The opinions expressed in the column above represent the author’s own.