When does Greenwash start and end?
The word greenwash came up quite a lot during my various presentations and discussions last week. The Cambridge Dictionary definition of greenwash is:
The conversation came up because the conclusion of my business case model is that many organisations are trying to reap the ‘higher level’ benefits like winning more business using strategies that are designed for cost cutting. As an example I quoted a client who had turned down a project which would have been a great green marketing opportunity but had no economic return in favour of a backroom project which would have a much bigger environmental benefit and an economic return.
My point was that, if they had gone with the former project they would have engaged more of the public and communicated their message better than 100 sustainability reports. “Is that not greenwash?” they asked. “Is boasting about a project which gives an economic return not greenwash?” I countered, tongue in cheek.
The answer is you can pretty much accuse anything of being greenwash – and many people on the anti-capitalist fringe of the green movement do. So all green marketing is fraught with danger.
My advice is:
- Never, ever overstate what you are doing.
- Don’t ignore the elephant in the room – if you produce persistent and bioaccumulative pesticides, no-one is going to be impressed with your office paper recycling system.
- Don’t tell people you are green, rather show them what you have done and let them make up their own mind.
- Balance backroom projects with ‘shop window’ projects – so you can engage your customers/the wider public.
- If you are really clever you can use the ‘economic’ projects to finance the ‘non-economic’ projects.