Transparency is the new green: How to communicate sustainability

As a well-known celebrity once said, it’s not easy being green. And with the growing consumer interest in sustainable goods and services, it’s important that businesses don’t fall into the trap of ‘greenwashing’ to make their offering seem more attractive to customers.

In this blog, Emma Batchelor, Associate Director at spottydog and passionate sustainability advocate, discusses the Green Claims Code and how businesses can make sustainability claims ethically and effectively.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a company exaggerates or provides misleading or incomplete information about its products or services to give the impression they are more ethical, sustainable or environmentally beneficial than they actually are.

The green sheen phenomenon can come in different shades, however. For example, some businesses may simply talk up their green credentials as a marketing tactic, hopping onto the environmental bandwagon to improve brand image without checking the validity of their claims. Others may simply not be considering their sustainability messaging in a holistic way.

At spottydog, we work with a number of environmentally conscious brands — from makers of the world’s smartest EV chargers, Indra, and carbon offsetting company, Climate Wise, to eco-friendly dog chew brand, Earth Animal. This has enabled us to gain invaluable experience of working with brands to help them achieve an authentic green standard that won’t leave you red-faced when it comes to consumer scrutiny.

Complying with the Green Claims Code

Recently, the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) — the UK’s competition regulator for businesses — published guidance to help businesses comply with consumer protection law when making environmental claims. This focuses not only on the messages a business communicates, but also on the colours, logos and pictures they use in marketing materials.

The guidance sets out five clear principles for making legally sound environmental claims. Here, we run through each of them and what they mean when it comes to communicating your green credentials:

  1. They must be truthful and accurate — this rule may seem obvious, but it’s an easy one to break if you’ve haven’t carried out a thorough audit of your claims. Make sure that every single element of your claim can be backed up with credible evidence.
  2. Claims must be clear and unambiguous — with the number of fast-moving consumer trends, businesses might find themselves using buzzwords like ‘carbon neutral’ to generate shopper interest, without knowing what it actually means. Likewise, many companies put a green leaf symbol on their packaging to show they’re sustainable, but don’t explain why. Always know exactly why you’re using certain terms/symbols and be able to explain how they’re reached/calculated.
  3. Claims must not omit or hide important or relevant information — it can be easy to gloss over important information to make your product seem more sustainable, but this can lead you into trouble. For example, you shouldn’t claim your product is ‘100% recyclable’ if only one element or part of it is.
  4. Comparisons must be fair and meaningful — for example, if you’re saying your product is the greenest on the market, be ready to explain why it is with credible evidence to back up your claims.
  5. Claims must consider the full lifecycle of the product or service — for example, you shouldn’t mislead consumers with statements such as ‘we’re reducing plastic’ if the overall impact of the new packaging is actually worse for the environment.

If calculating the carbon footprint of your whole supply chain sounds impossible, however, don’t panic as you don’t need to detail every element of the product lifecycle to promote your business as being more sustainable, but you do need to take into consideration the whole product lifecycle and its overall impact on the environment when making the claim.

Think like a sustainable shopper

The Green Claims Code extends to shoppers too, with the CMA providing five tips for consumers to consider when buying from a business that claim to be sustainable.

  1. Don’t just trust slogans and vague claims
  2. Look for evidence
  3. Look past appearance
  4. Don’t forget disposal
  5. Think about the bigger picture

It can be useful to put yourself into the mind of a shopper to consider how they might receive and interpret your product messages as part of your messaging strategy. This can help you avoid exaggerated or false claims that could land you in hot water with the CMA. It could also help you make more informed decisions when it comes to your supply chain, procurement or packaging choices.

What next?

The CMA is leading a compliance review in early 2022 to clamp down on misleading green claims, so now is a good time to audit your sustainability communications to ensure they meet the five core principles. While there is no current financial penalty for breaching this consumer law, there may well be enforcement involved, and the loss of public confidence can be just as costly as any fine if your customers judge you to have mislead them

Need some help giving your marketing strategy the green light? Get in touch with us today.

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