How to avoid greenwashing in your marketing efforts

As marketers in the sustainable and regenerative space, we know that greenwashing is wrong.

And in many countries, it’s even illegal. Both the Federal Trade Commission (US) and the Competition and Markets Authority (UK) have laws regulating green claims online.

Even so, it’s tricky to know exactly what to say about our sustainability credentials. Particularly if we feel pressure to meet certain marketing KPIs!

I don’t want to pretend that any of this is easy or that I have all the answers.

But I do think there’s a responsible way to go about this. And I think we can learn a lot from other brands’ successes and failures.

So let’s dive in, and explore some best practices.

Tip #1: Be transparent

We all know that we should be transparent in our marketing claims. But how many companies can claim total sustainability transparency?

Danish skin care company NØIE is doing a pretty darn good job.

In a December 2021 article, they pose the question “Have we failed to deliver on our sustainability commitments?

They answer it rather bluntly: “There is no simple answer to the question above. The truth is that we have failed and we have succeeded.” 

In the article, they provide several metrics that showcase their victories: they’ve gotten better at sourcing responsible ingredients, they’ve become net carbon negative, and more.

But, they also reveal the areas where they haven’t succeeded yet — for instance, a big rebrand that resulted in increased waste. 

This is super high transparency, and it’s effective as well. It builds trust and shows respects to the consumer.

A simple way you can practice transparency is by updating the sustainability section on your website. Don’t just highlight how you’re doing great — dare to be upfront about how you could do better.

NOIE sustainability update
NOIE's December 2021 blog gives an honest update of their sustainability successes and failures.

Tip #2: Avoid hyperbole

When making sustainability claims, avoid exaggeration. Ask yourself if your product or brand can really do what you say it can.

One example we can all learn from is Innocent Drinks, who recently got slammed for over-emphasizing the environmental impact of their products in their upbeat ad “Fixing Up the Planet.” 

Plastics Rebellion activists felt Innocent’s ad went too far in its messaging. The Advertising Standards Agency agreed, and the ad was eventually banned for “exaggerating the total environmental benefits” of the product.

Keep in mind, Innocent has an impressive B Corp score of 105.2 and is doing a lot of things right. But in the end, the ad was over the top.

Patagonia shows us a different approach to the “let’s save the world together” style video. I think it’s a solid alternative. 

In their 2020 ad “Buy Less, Demand More,” Patagonia sticks to claims they can back up. They avoid making sweeping claims and even tell their viewers to buy less.

To marketers who are used to flashy claims, this may sound not very exciting or effective. But this more modest approach to sustainability claims is smart. And it will only become more so in the next few years.

Tip #3: Play the long game

Transparent and modest marketing only works for companies willing to play the long game. And in the short term, marketing teams may very well see that flashier approaches generate more sales.

But being honest about sustainability is important now … and it’s only going to become more so, as consumers become more educated and fired up about which companies they support.

When looking at the financial impact of shifting your marketing team’s approach, take a long-term view.

It may or may not pay off in the short term. But it definitely will in the long term —especially when it comes to your company’s impact on people and the planet.

Further reading

Want to avoid greenwashing and encourage your business to embrace more honest sustainability messaging? 

Here are a few resources that can help:  

Government Guides


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The sustainable e-commerce content specialist

Rebekah Mays is a content strategist and writer for sustainable brands. She helps marketers and executives cut through the noise and focus on the areas that will make the biggest organic impact.

Ready to get help with your content optimization? Get in touch.