The big debate: should marketers be afraid of greenwashing?

These days, brands are increasingly being called to take a stand on a range of social and environmental issues. Using this stance as the backbone of a marketing campaign can send a powerful message – or it can open brands up to intense scrutiny. So, is it worth it?

In the run up to COP28, sustainability is once again grabbing headlines and topping corporate agendas. But using your organisation’s ESG credentials in marketing campaigns is no straightforward task. Make your claims too loudly – or fail to substantiate them – and you can be accused of greenwashing, achieving exactly the opposite of what you set out to do. On the other hand, not taking a stance on sustainability issues means brands run the risk of losing customers to greener competitors. 

So, is it worth the gamble? Two marketing experts have their say.

Marketing is an organisation’s most powerful tool in inspiring collective climate action

Jad Jebara 
Chief executive, Hyperview 

Over the past few years, sustainability has become more and more prominent in marketing and communications. Some argue this surge is an attempt to greenwash customers into buying more products or services, but really it underscores a deeper truth – customers increasingly prize transparency and authenticity from their favourite brands. 

It’s not just about making sustainability claims, it’s about having a genuine commitment to making a positive environmental impact. Companies that authentically communicate their dedication to sustainability through marketing build trust among their customer base, creating relationships based on sincerity rather than promotional rhetoric. 

Rather than perceiving it as a competition around who is “greenest”, let’s view it as a collective journey toward a more environmentally conscious future. While there are frontrunners, the goal isn’t for brands to outpace each other but to work together in creating a better world for all. Being vocal allows companies across sectors to learn and take inspiration from each other. This collaborative mindset can benefit individual organisations or sectors but can also cause a domino effect that extends beyond singular industries. 

Marketing is one of the most obvious and powerful tools organisations can use to combat climate change and stay accountable. 

As we step into 2024, the alarming climate events of 2023 serve as a call for immediate and decisive action. The expected record-breaking temperatures highlight the urgent need for efforts to address climate change. Marketing is one of the most obvious and powerful tools organisations can use to combat climate change and stay accountable. 

The key is to communicate objective, transparent and actionable benchmarks, not simply futuristic 2030 or 2050 targets. We can only improve what we measure.

While the phrase ‘the time to act is now’ may sound like a broken record, but it’s never been truer. By being outspoken about our organisations’ sustainability efforts through marketing, we can pave the way for a more resilient and environmentally conscious global community. The stakes have never been higher, and collective action is key if we want to see real change. 

Doing the right thing is much more important than talking about it

Heather Wilkinson 
Senior content and PR manager, DivideBuy 

ESG in business has become increasingly important – and rightly so. Nobody can argue that finding ways to boost sustainability in business is a negative. However, brands have learned lessons recently on the challenges of communicating these efforts, especially where marketing is concerned.

We’ve witnessed the rise of ‘greenwashing’. Brands who have (sometimes unintentionally) oversold the impact of their social or environmental activism have been named and shamed for misleading the public. Social media and increased access to information means that a business can very quickly find itself ‘going viral’ for all the wrong reasons.

If you’re going to publicly promote your sustainability efforts, it’s vital that your business is completely transparent about what you are achieving.

There’s also an increase in scepticism around brands aligning themselves with social impact ventures and initiatives – especially if these efforts play a key role in your marketing collateral.

If you’re going to publicly promote your sustainability efforts, it’s vital that your business is completely transparent about what you are achieving.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t let customers know about your sustainability efforts. Instead, empower them by letting them experience how they directly contribute to this themselves. Our retail partner Swyft is an excellent example of this. Their Carbon Offsetting page sits neatly at the footer of their homepage, visible to users searching for other information such as finance options, but not the main focus of the landing page. When you click through to a product, an invitation to find out more about carbon offsetting is displayed underneath the payment options. 

The Carbon Offsetting page itself goes into clinical detail about the process and how they report on it, breaking it down meticulously and avoiding fluffy vocabulary and buzzwords. Some businesses even add ‘congratulations’ messages on the Thank You page of an order completion with a stat on how that purchase has contributed to sustainability.

‘Delight’ is a key stage of the marketing journey. Customers who’ve visited your website because they love your products are given the added benefit of realising that purchase (which they may have been on the fence about) has helped the planet – meaning they’re more likely to come again.