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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

As a practitioner of green PR and marketing, I spend hours every week walking the fine line between sincere promotion of sustainable corporate ideals and the murky waters of corporate “greenwashing” – the general term to describe the practice of promoting disingenuous information to support the guise of an eco-friendly public image. Accordingly, being accused of greenwashing is a constant concern of mine, apparently for good reason.

In fact, a recent study found that 98 percent of products make claims that are greenwashed. While some may dismiss the label of “greenwashing” as a casualty of green PR and marketing, the damage caused to any organization found guilty of the practice can be severe. Consider just three of the six main greenwashing risks, as outlined by OgilvyEarth’s greenwashing guide:

  • Reputational Damage: Companies that greenwash risk their credibility within their industries and with consumers. Skepticism is a growing trend and ideal in our society, and people don’t hesitate to pick up on and alert others to anything they feel is insincere. Rebounding from a blow to one’s reputation is one of the hardest tasks a company can face.
  • Consumer Alienation: More than 50 percent of climate-savvy consumers believe brands’ sustainability-related claims are embellished or fabricated. With so many other options for eco-friendly products, skeptical buyers will be the first to walk away if they find a reason to believe a company is greenwashing.
  • Leadership Opportunity Cost: There is a $200 billion market in the U.S. for eco-friendly oriented products. Additionally, 38 percent of eco-minded consumers make an effort to purchase goods and services from socially-responsible companies, meaning there is huge potential for failure for businesses that choose to greenwash. But, there is also potential for success among those willing to lead the charge in genuine environmental efforts.

Many organizations, no matter how sincere their reasons for taking on corporate sustainability, run the risk of greenwashing. But to avoid being crowned with this notorious title, be honest about your environmental efforts and communicate your plans for reaching sustainability goals. Celebrate your accomplishments, but don’t embellish them – consumers will see straight through the hype. Take immediate action if concerns arise about your sustainability practices, that way you won’t give anyone a reason to believe you have something to hide. Lastly, always maintain your relationships in the industry and with media – this will only help to fortify your reputation and give you credibility when and where you need it.

Click here to download OgilvyEarth’s From Greenwash To Great: A Guide To Great Green Marketing (without the Greenwash).

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Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide