If you greenwash your products and brands, it will influence on your company’s reputation and eventually your profits. It will also have an effect on consumers—real human people—and could have serious consequences on the green movement and how much people believe in it, and that damages all of us on the planet, and our children.
The following points are just a few of the dangers and negative consequences of greenwashing:
1. It encourages consumer scepticism. People that make a constant effort live sustainably are discouraged when they find they have been misled or lied to about eco and natural products. This loss of trust is demotivating and they may stop trying to make an effort altogether. They may switch back to a non-eco product with no environmental protections whatsoever. This scepticism carries over to your brand communications. Once you have been caught greenwashing your future advertising claims will come under even greater scrutiny.
2. It harms the environment. Companies and people can get so caught up in the politics of greenwashing that they forget that the actual environment—the planet we all live on—is being harmed. When companies become aware of other businesses claiming to be green they feel a need to compete, even if that means cheating or harming the environment. As a product producer you must remember you, and your children, live on this planet as well.
3. Diminished consumer power and wasted consumer money.
No one likes to be cheated. Consumers who actually care about the environmental friendliness of what they buy, are usually willing to spend more money on it. No one wants to spend more money for products, only to discover that those products do nothing, less, or worse than claimed to help save the environment. In turn this hurts freedom and damages belief in democracy.
4. Destroyed reputation and sales. In todays social-media driven times, all it takes is one capable person with a smartphone and one of the ever-growing list of consumer research apps to destroy your brand. You WILL be found out. The damage to your company and your brands’ reputations is far worse than just making an effort to be environmentally friendly to start with.
(Above) In PART 2 we looked at the September 2016 Volkswagen “clean diesel” scandal. Above is the graph of their share price through the time when the public became aware of their greenwashing. The result was the the recall of over 500,000 cars, billions of dollars in fines, a massive share price drop, and several executives going to prison.
(Above) Another famous case that shows the dangers to your brand of greenwashing was what happened after British Petroleum tried to pass themselves off as a green company, rather than be honest about their shortcomings and presenting a long-term plan to change. The spearhead of this was this new logo (left). What happened next was a PR disaster for them: the Internet was flooded with distortion of their new "green" logo. You could not perform a search for British Petroleum without finding dozens of such distortions.
Greenwashing, intentional or otherwise could even earn the ire of Brandalism, who posted hundreds of fake ads around Paris during the Paris climate talks to shame the companies greenwashing by sponsoring the Paris climate talks, to make themselves appear to be onboard.
Imagine if all the energy of these activists was behind your brand instead of against it. There is a way, which we will look at in Part 4 of this blog post series.
Ultimately, green credentials are good for marketing to conscientious consumers but if you are going to espouse these credentials you have the responsibility make sure they are valid, or you’ll face the wrath of the market.
Michaela Thomas is the owner and creative director of Butterflies & Hurricanes design studio in Prague, Czech Republic.