Greenwashing’s Two-Edged Sword
Bill Roth, triplepundit, provides great context of the impact that greenwashing has had on businesses that are debating sharing their greening efforts, companies and nonprofits that have partnered on a promotion and consumers' response to green products and services. He emphasizes that consumers and businesses are still in the midst of understanding and accepting green products and each others' authenticity/acceptance of those ideas.
Thank you to those who wave the flag of “Greenwashing” at
companies who are not walking their talk. I work with businesses across
the country and I can confirm that the fear of being tarred with the
greenwash label is a motivating force firmly in place inside Corporate
However, I’m also beginning to see evidence from my national network
of “going-green” businesses that the fear of being branded as a
greenwasher is also means they’re slow in adopting more sustainable
practices. The following quote paraphrases something I hear a lot from
within my network: “We don’t want to advertise what we are doing for fear of being labeled as greenwashers by environmentalists.”
Do you remember when the Sierra Club endorsed Green Works,
the home cleaning product from Clorox? Charges of “sell out” were
hurled at the Sierra Club. In hindsight, my market research suggests
Green Works is often the first green product purchased by a consumer
experimenting with the concept of “going green.” So did Sierra Club
sell out or were they helping pioneer the first sustainability
adoption-steps by consumers? Also Green Work’s achieving $100 million
in annual revenues has demonstrated to the rest of corporate America
that green can be mass marketed.
Market research is now documenting the process Americans are using
in adopting sustainability. A recent Harris poll found that 63 percent
of those surveyed had purchased a higher efficiency CFL light bulb
during the last year. Yet only 2 percent of cars sold are hybrids. The American consumer is in the process of making a transition through learning and experimentation toward a sustainable lifestyle.
This brings me full circle to the issue of greenwashing and the
feedback that I’ve received. Like their customers, America’s businesses
are also moving along a path of learning, experimentation and then
adoption. But many of these companies are not telling their customers
because they fear the dark-green leaders of sustainability will brand
them for not doing enough. This fear is retarding the
marketing connection between companies attempting to build a
profit-proposition for going green and consumers that would buy from a
less than dark-green company as part of their own path for going from
light to darker green. Another telling lesson learned from the
market research on Green Works is that a major reason consumers did
experiment with buying this green household product was Clorox’s
credibility for selling effective household cleaners!
So what’s the answer? I’m not suggesting is that our dark-green
advocates back off. Holding all of our feet to the fire is a hugely
important role if we have any hope of achieving a 350 world.
What I am suggesting is that businesses that are going green must
overcome their greenwashing fears and connect with their customers.
“Authenticity and trust are what customers are looking for,” explains
Steven Addis and John Creson of Addis Creson , a company that contributed toward Kashi’s growth
into a national brand. And what Addis and Creson suggest is that
companies adopt “transparency” as a marketing path for telling their
When businesses admit to me their fears of being accused of
greenwashing, I tell them that social media offers a path for
establishing authenticity, trust and transparency. Cone Research just
reported that over half of Americans use social media and 78 percent of
them interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools.
In the The Secret Green Sauce
I call this use of social media to enable a collaborative learning,
experimentation and then procurement process “Know it, Embrace.” The
use of social or new media through Web 2.0 tools is an emerging
marketing best practice successfully being used by companies growing
green revenues through an alignment strategy with customers searching
for trustworthy, authentic green companies and products.