How to properly communicate sustainability and avoid greenwashing?

Sustainability has gone mainstream. Organizations increasingly want to communicate the sustainability of their business because they see it as an ideal way to stay relevant. However, what if the communication goes wrong and you enter the greenwashing zone?

3 min to read
Written by: Mia Musulin

As part of the communication strategy of your business this year, you placed the promotion of sustainability high on the list of priorities. You have started in a good but also very challenging direction. Communicating sustainability is a complex business in which you must be careful not to enter the greenwashing zone.


What is greenwashing? 


Greenwashing implies a form of misleading marketing if the company or brand presents itself as sustainable without implementing appropriate activities. On the other hand, responsible companies work hard to create shared values for themselves and society. However, greenwashing often occurs due to needing more knowledge of the subject matter.

The consequences of misplaced communication can cause severe and long-lasting damage to the image and reputation of the company or brand. That’s why we have selected four tips to avoid greenwashing in communication.


1. Be authentic, transparent and responsible. 


Avoid using the terms ‘green,’ ‘eco,’ or ‘sustainable’ just because it sounds good to you. Be transparent and focus on being honest about your organization’s impact on the environment or human rights.

Tell an accurate and complete story. One of the good ways to do this is to place a QR code on the product that will lead to a website with all the relevant information. A perfect example of this is the clothing brand Patagonia.


2. The information you share must be well-argued. 


Claims about your sustainable efforts must be supported by evidence. Map every phase of introducing sustainability in your company – from decision-making, through implementation in business, to communication.

Imagine that you are the finance director who presents figures to the Board of Directors for further decision-making. When you have everything recorded, start communicating internally to partners, clients, customers, the media and other external stakeholders.


3. Instead of “we are committed to”, use the phrase “so far we have done”.


Many statements about sustainability, in various reports, announcements, or posts on social networks, start with the sentence ‘we are committed to that.’ However, aside from being worn out, that sentence only means a little.

Instead, start with the sentence “so far we have implemented so-and-so in the business” and describe what you have done and which actions you are involved in. Discuss the importance of sustainability only if your company has made a serious effort.


4. If greenwashing happened – apologize! 


If we go back to the beginning, greenwashing can happen to anyone. Knowing how to say sorry, we made a mistake is essential. We learned. We will do things differently. Don’t avoid conversation and clarification and don’t make excuses if you know you’ve made a mistake. Everyone will appreciate a clear argument and an improvement plan.


Two key levels can encourage and support the sustainability of the company – ESG reporting (here we mean the directive on non-financial reporting, soon to be mandatory for large and then also for small and medium-sized companies) and authentic communication, but the basis for everything is an actual implementation of responsibility in business. If you keep that in mind, you can forget everything else.


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