JustOne Letter: It’s time to end greenwashing and start telling the truth

June 21, 2022 / by Lindsey Matejczyk


In this next employee letter, our Senior Sustainability Consultant, Lindsey Matejczyk, takes a look at answering three big questions that are asked about greenwashing and shares key recommendations on how to spot and avoid greenwashing, and take action.

1. What is greenwashing?

In its simplest form, greenwashing is any form of communication that promotes deceitful or misleading information about a company’s operations, services and products. It’s used as a way of gaining brand reputation and customer loyalty from people who would choose to support a company for their positive sustainability claims.

It’s important that consumers are able to spot greenwashing to ensure we don’t buy products based on lies. It is also crucial for communication and marketing teams to have the skills and knowledge to create messages that are impactful and honest.

Where have we seen greenwashing take place?

In February 2020 the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned a Ryanair advertisement over claims of greenwashing. The advert claimed that the airline was the most carbon efficient in Europe. Authorities stated that the advert contained misleading comparisons, and misuse of data to create a competitive advantage.

We all need to be on our guard…

In 2015, Nielson’s Global Corporate Sustainability Report, found that 66% of consumers would spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand, and that jumps to 73% among millennials. Whilst this is great news, it is clear that companies now have financial incentives to take action for people and the planet. With trust in leadership, governments and society decreasing, we all need to be on high alert for fake news and potential greenwashing.

But there is good news…

We also know that consumers, and especially millennials, are becoming more and more critical of what brands and people are claiming in public spaces. This may well result in an increased awareness of how both actions and words are perceived, and therefore a genuine commitment to authentic communications is needed.

2. How can you avoid greenwashing and take positive action?

–> Be able to spot greenwashing:

Watch out for fluffy language.

  • We need to be aware of companies that are vague, don’t bring clarity to their decisions and actions, and never seem to get to the point.

Ask yourself the question, how transparent is this company?

  • Companies should be as transparent as possible in their communications. No company is perfect, but it’s evident that consumers want to buy from places that are real and share their highs and lows.
  • Take a look at Adidas, who in 2021 was found guilty by the French Advertising Ethics Jury for a claim that their Stan Smith trainer was made from at least “50% recycled materials”. What they failed to mention was that only the upper part of the shoe was made from 50% recycled material, rather than the complete shoe.

Be on your guard when you see equivalents.

  • Equivalents need to be backed by raw data with clear calculations that support the comparisons being made.

Ask your questions!

  • Open channels of communication between consumer and brands are key for accountability and sustainable growth.

–> Ensure you and your teams create meaningful communications:

Tell the whole story. And we mean, the WHOLE story.

  • Don’t fall into the trap of emphasising one small sustainable element when the wider story could be easily scrutinised and picked apart for not being sustainable. Ask yourself; what are the challenges we need to communicate, learn from and take action on? What are the opportunities and successes we can celebrate?
  • In 2021, Ace and Tate shared a blog that set an example of being honest about the challenges and mistakes they’ve made as a business whilst working on their approach to becoming a sustainable business. As they stated their short comings, they also shared how they are taking action and what steps they are taking to solve the issues they face.

Be honest and tell the truth.

  • If you feel nervous about sharing something because of the accuracy or truthfulness of the post – just don’t do it. Do your research, engage with stakeholders and map out the challenges you face with the idea to share them.
  • Brands that engage with key stakeholders, and develop robust internal communication review processes will share messages that are both impactful and honest.

Know who you are, what you sell and who is involved.

  • Never forget the power of knowing who you are and what your purpose is. Purpose led communications come from the heart and aren’t used to continually churn out content with the hope of making profit.
  • Ensure your communication and marketing teams really understand your products and/or services, who is involved in the creation and delivery of them and what their impacts are.

Invest in your people and connect them.

  • Invest in your people by training and upskilling them so they are able to speak authentically and honestly about your sustainability approach. Sustainability is not an easy thing to communicate, and your teams need to have a good grasp of current terms, trends and phrases to avoid greenwash.
  • Enable your sustainability and marketing and communications teams to work seamlessly together and have strong processes for collaboration in place.

3. What is happening to prevent greenwashing?

Have you heard of the recently launched Green Claims Code? The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)’s Green Claims Code states that unclear communications from businesses regarding the environmental claims of their products and services could now lead to prosecution. This code applies to both marketing to consumers, and to other businesses. All claims made must:

✔️ Be truthful and accurate ✔️ Be clear and unambiguous ✔️ Not omit or hide important relevant information ✔️ Have fair and meaningful comparisons ✔️ Consider the full life cycle of the product or service ✔️ Be substantiated

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