In the latest edition of our Field Manual series, Part III: From action to amplification, we show you how to translate your sustainability program into successful communications that drive sustainability action. This communications guide comes last in our series, because we firmly believe that to tell a great story and avoid greenwashing, the substance must come first.
Greenwashing, as we all know, is when companies misleadingly portray their product, service, or organization as environmentally friendly or sustainable when, in reality, their actions or practices are inconsistent with their claims. While the goal of making these claims is to bolster public perception or gain a competitive advantage, the result can be the opposite. Consumers are intelligent. With the extensive information available these days, and high expectations around sustainability, it's easy to find out if a company is being honest about their sustainability impact.
Here's an anti-greenwashing checklist you can use:
Are your claims backed by data?
Your claims should be substantiated by concrete data. Transparently presenting quantitative information, such as reductions in carbon emissions or resource usage, lends credibility to your messaging. Without data to support your claims, your efforts may be perceived as fluffy, misleading, or worse, as lies. By including specific figures and evidence directly in your communications or as links, you provide credibility to your message.
Are you using credible, third-party certifications and standards to support your claims?
Utilizing established and recognized third-party certifications and standards bolster the credibility of your sustainability claims. These certifications, such as ENERGY STAR, Fair Trade, or USDA Organic, are backed by rigorous assessments and criteria. They provide external validation of your sustainability practices, helping to build trust.
Are you leveraging third-party assurance for data and disclosures?
Engaging third-party auditors or experts to review and validate your sustainability data and disclosures adds an extra layer of credibility. Independent assessments ensure that your claims are accurate and can withstand scrutiny. By subjecting your practices to external evaluation, you demonstrate a commitment to transparency and integrity.
Are your claims supported by clear, transparent plans and a pathway to achieve them?
When a company makes a claim like, “We will be carbon-neutral by 2030” it should be backed by a comprehensive and transparent roadmap for achieving it. Clearly communicate your strategies, milestones, and the steps you're taking for any forward-looking claim.
Did you avoid vague, undefined language?
Ambiguous or vague language can lead to misunderstanding and suspicion. Be precise in your claims, using concrete terms instead of vague buzzwords like "eco-friendly" or "green." Rather than saying, “Made from recycled materials” include the actual percentage of recycled materials used in your products. Clarity and specificity help consumers understand the actual impact of your efforts.
Have you considered the imagery used in your marketing materials?
Visuals play a significant role in conveying your sustainability message. Ensure that the images used in your marketing materials align with your claims. Avoid using misleading or unrelated visuals that might give a false impression of your eco-friendly practices.
For more on communicating about sustainability download our Insights Paper.
And check out some of our recent articles:
- Why storytelling is key to driving sustainability progress
- The art of sustainability communication: Four essential tactics
- Five insights for sustainability communicators