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    Being green (and credible)

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    Green laundry detergent, green broadband, green electricity, green cars, green cleaning products, green flights, the list goes on…
    With increased awareness about climate change (particularly after the release of Al Gore’s ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and the reports by the Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change), more consumers are becoming concerned about the environmental credentials of products and services.
    Smart businesses are realising the competitive advantages and business opportunities in sustainability and have developed and adapted their products in a more environmentally responsible manner. And many companies are promoting the sustainability of their products through their marketing campaigns. But it can be tricky business.
    ‘Greenwashing’ has appeared as a term used initially by NGOs, and now by the general public, to describe the act of misleading customers regarding the environmental practices and benefits of a company, product or service. More consumers are becoming alert to the issues of greenwashing.
    ACCC scrutinises ‘green’ marketing claims
    According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) there has been an increasing number of complaints and inquiries about green marketing.
    In February this year, the ACCC released updated guidance for business about the use of environmental claims in marketing. The document ‘Green Marketing and the Trade Practices Act’ clarifies the obligations of business under the Trade Practices Act 1974 which protects consumers from misleading or deceptive information from marketers.
    For example, in March the ACCC and Woolworths Limited agreed on a number of steps to resolve concerns about the labelling of Woolworths Select tissue products. The concerns related to the sustainability of the fibre used in the products and the environmental management record of the producers. The ACCC was not able to form a ‘concluded view’ on the issue and Woolworths proposed placing stickers on the packaging until they rolled out new packaging with the claims omitted.
    The 6 sins of green marketing
    A Canadian company called TerraChoice Environmental Marketing Inc. has conducted a study into false and misleading environmental advertising in North America. The study, ‘Six Sins of Greenwashing’, looked at more than 1,700 environmental claims of just over 1,000 products. The study found that all the products except for one made claims that are demonstrably false or that risk misleading the customer.
    The 6 sins of greenwashing are:
    1. Sin of the Hidden Trade-off
    2. Sin of No Proof
    3. Sin of Vagueness
    4. Sin of Irrelevance
    5. Sin of Fibbing
    6. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
    The Sin of the Hidden Trade-off was the most frequently committed sin in the study, made by 57 percent of all environmental claims. This sin is committed when a single green claim about a product is made, which is narrow or doesn’t acknowledge other important environment issues associated with the product. For example, paper that promotes recycled content but doesn’t give attention to the manufacturing impacts such as air emissions and global warming impacts.
    Recommendations for marketers
    A small but growing number of businesses are taking advantage of the untapped market of consumers that are looking for responsible products and services. To reach this market, green marketing is integral and the key is credibility. Here are some tips for building the credibility of your green marketing:
    • Don’t make claims without understanding the total impact, or the lifecycle, of your product (from paddock to plate). This represents the Sin of the Hidden Trade-off and is misleading for your customers.
    • Provide independent third party evidence to support your claims. It’s called the Sin of No Proof and if you can’t substantiate your claims with an independent expert, then you shouldn’t use them.
    • Don’t use terms that confuse the customer and stay away from environmental jargon. Ozone layer, environmental footprint, CO2, CH4, ecosystem … it can get confusing. Use simple language and aim your writing at an average 12 year old.
    • Be honest and transparent about your claims. It’s called the Sin of Fibbing and it’s the worst of all the sins because you are simply not telling the truth (and you know it).
    • Ensure that your green positioning is consistent across your brand. It’s no use having a great sustainable product if the rest of your business does not consider its environmental impacts. Make sustainability core to your brand and the way you do business.
    • Test your green claims with interested stakeholders. If you’re still concerned about the response to your green marketing, test it with your customers and other interested stakeholder groups.
    Green marketing offers a powerful way to reach new consumers. Be green (and credible at the same time).

    Renee Hancock is a marketing and communications specialist whose experience spans finance, government, education, not-for-profit, telecommunications and law. She has consulted for two of Australia’s most prestigious public relations agencies and now works in-house for a leading financial services organisation.

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