Climate change is an issue I’ve been passionate about for over a decade now, and I truly believe that considered communications can steer us towards a better path for our planet.
A well-executed PR and marketing campaign can change people’s hearts, minds and ultimately their behaviour and habits for the better.
However, it’s important to stay honest. At all times. Whomever you are!
Five years ago I completed my Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) where I examined how the PR industry was communicating climate change and I discovered a worrying trend called Greenwash.
This is when a company spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through PR and marketing activities than actually implementing the business practices that minimise their environmental impact.
Below is a blog I posted back in 2013 and, while big efforts are being made overall for the good, I believe the principle remains true – we need to be transparent and truthful with our messages as business owners. And as consumers we need to ask the right questions!
I’d welcome your thoughts.
What a load of greenwash!
As concerned and informed shoppers we want ‘green’ and ethical products. Countless studies have proven that shoppers seek to purchase from companies that do their best to reduce their impact on the environment, particularly when it comes to buying clothes, groceries and cars.
What a shame that some companies take advantage of the well-meaning consumer with over-hyped claims about their green credentials.
Also known as ‘greenwashing’, it’s a way for them to make you think that they care about the environment, when their true goal is probably just to increase profit margins.
I believe that ignorance is no excuse, so I have no qualms when I suggest that the culprits deliberately look for ways around laws and regulations and use sneaky advertising to make us think that what they are selling is better for us (and the environment) when in reality it’s probably just as bad, or even worse.
This was clear when I looked at purchasing a car a couple of years ago. With economic and environmental credentials both high on my wish-list, I quickly found myself inundated and completely overwhelmed with the wide assortment of wild claims being made.
Alongside images of cars travelling through verdant meadows, phrases from ‘high performance and low emissions’ to ‘more power and less pollution’ screamed out, striking me as outrageously misleading to say the least.
Upon further inspection, most of these outlandish claims weren’t backed up with any supporting evidence; they were it transpired big fat fibs cunningly crafted to dupe environmentally-caring consumers like me to part with considerable cash with a warm, virtuous glow.
Deeply disillusioned and deeply out-priced too, I shelved my new car plan and opted for the bus as my preferred mode of transport.
Unsurprisingly, some of the finest greenwash specimens in recent history are the proud work of the oil industry. British Petroleum, Shell, Exxon Mobil and others, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars branding themselves as eco-friendly.
In July 2000, British Petroleum launched a million-dollar campaign to position itself as an environmentally-friendly organisation.
Its new slogan claimed the company was ‘Beyond Petroleum’ and the shield-style logo was changed to a new, cheerful green and yellow sunburst, obviously aiming to invoke a warm and fuzzy feeling about the earth and the company.
Similarly, I remember the eminently deceptive advert issued by Shell, which featured those pesky carbon dioxide molecules being caught with butterfly nets and chimneys spewing out flowers.
The advert made it so easy to be drawn into a false sense of security and believe that Shell had all but abandoned oil. Luckily the Advertising Standards Authority wasn’t so easily fooled and wisely upheld a complaint from Friends of the Earth.
But greenwash isn’t restricted to the motor and oil industries. It’s a lot closer to home as well.
An extraordinary number of beauty products have the word ‘natural’ plastered over their packaging alongside beautiful images depicting lush outdoor scenery. Don’t be fooled – this is gravely misleading.
As there are currently no regulations in the UK, this remains a legal grey area allowing companies to describe a product as natural, or even organic, when it perhaps only contains insignificant amounts of relevant ingredients.
Thankfully, companies peddling green spin are under scrutiny as never before. Campaign groups are enjoying increasing success at exposing greenwash while advertising regulators worldwide are cracking down on bogus environmental claims.
Of course we can’t expect companies to be purely benevolent. But they do need to be candid about their green claims. Nothing is quite as powerful as consumer pressure and demand; so as individuals we need to be on alert.
We need to be able to recognise greenwash for what it is, ask the right questions and ultimately make the right purchasing decisions.