Clear Green Marketing

How to tell your sustainability story in honest, transparent, powerful terms

“Green washing” may be the dirtiest word in marketing. Instead of changing their operations, these businesses throw a thick coat of green-seeming brand paint over it so no one can see what’s really going on inside. It’s the opposite of transparency. But that’s not responsible business, and in the long run, marketers who greenwash are only making customers more mistrustful and immune to their own messages, be they from marketing, PR, or the local green-eared painter.

How can responsible businesses communicate what they’re doing transparently, and should they even try? We asked some of the industry’s top sustainability advocates, and this is what they said.

Q: How should companies discuss their environmental initiatives? Should they use it in their marketing at all? Does it benefit the brand?

Chet Dalzell, direct marketing industry public relations professional and author of the “Marketing Sustainably” blog:

Many companies, including many publicly held companies, have embraced environmental finance and environmental stewardship within their business practices. When credible, these companies continue to report dividends—review “Best Places to Work,” “Most Admired Companies” and “Trust Index” listings and you’ll inevitably find environmental initiatives as part of their public reporting.

Bringing such environmental performance to marketing is a brand decision. Consumers are more sophisticated and more skeptical than they have been in years. “Greenwashing” is spotted in a minute. So businesses that take the green claims route need to document such claims and offer evidence. Relying on perception or faulty assumptions too often fail the greenwashing test.

Meta Brophy, director, procurement operations, Consumer Reports:

Consumer Reports does not include information about environmental initiatives in our marketing materials. We don’t wish to deter the audience from reading and responding to the marketing message, please subscribe or donate. At this point in time, environmental initiatives that have been incorporated into producing our marketing material have been “accepted” by our customers, if you will, because our customers have responded. In that way, the changes that we have made to materials, methods, and specifications along the way have provided benefit to our brand and to our customers.

Q: How do you decide which environmental information to reveal to the public? How do you ensure that is accurate?

Thorin McGee is editor-in-chief and content director of Target Marketing and oversees editorial direction and product development for the magazine, website and other channels.
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