Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business
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Getting the green light to tell your ethical story

July 2013

How about this for the ultimate in greenwashing? Michinoku, a Japanese company which was - up until recently - making pampered pooch treats from one of the rarer species of whale, described itself as a green company because it used geothermal energy to melt the fat off whale carcasses…

Given such tales, it comes as no surprise that many companies are wary about how they market their green practices. Worried that sustainability messages will come across as a mere marketing ploy, companies aren’t sharing all the good news about their eco business practices, it seems. The Ryan Partnership Sustainability Study, fielded in collaboration with Sustainable Brands and Market LOHAS (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability Research), focused on how leading organisations are communicating sustainability.
“We found that even organisations that have been focused on sustainability for some time are still grappling with the right level of consumer communications,” said Kim Finnerty, SVP of Research and Insights, Ryan Partnership. Over three-quarters of respondents mentioned concerns about greenwashing and half mentioned a lack of consistency in sustainability measurements.
As for what’s motivating sustainability, a large majority cited “the environment”. Half pointed to supply chain optimisation and operational efficiency as the business drivers.
Notably, few executives (less than one in six) felt sustainability was being driven by consumer demand. Communication (or lack thereof) continues to be at the core of this issue. According to the Market LOHAS Research and Insight Team, “What this means is that shoppers remain unaware of the growing range of sustainable options across category and channel. They may not be able to put their money where their hearts are as much as they’d like.”
The study also found that, whether they consider themselves “conventional” or “sustainable,” manufacturers and retailers have different but interconnecting roles to play in delivering a compelling sustainability message to consumers. A number of brands are communicating sustainability from the inside out, engaging employees as ambassadors, while others believe a “soft sell” (not making sustainability the main message) works best.
Getting the balance right is indeed the conundrum for most businesses. Jacob Sterling, head of environment & CSR, at Maersk Line, part of the Danish shipping and energy giant, said in his blog recently that avoiding the trap of greenwashing is a balancing act more than an actual communications strategy. “We deliberately try to avoid using words such as ‘eco,’ ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ — how can a ship that burns 100 tons of fuel every day be ‘green’?”
I’d be interested to hear your experiences of avoiding the greenwashing trap. Please contact me on the email below.

Liz Jones | Global | Environment

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