A flood of skepticism over green PR efforts and a broadening definition of “greenwashing” have made sustainability and environmental PR campaigns more risky of late. That’s the gist of a new white paper by Bite PR, which sees a “perfect storm” of public interest, media attention, commerce’s impact on the environment, and government intervention all heightening skepticism for corporate greening campaigns.
In November, the Federal Trade Commission fast-tracked its review of green marketing regulations (which haven’t been updated since 1998) out of concern that companies selling sustainable, carbon-neutral or earth-friendly products could be misleading.
It’s in the interest of both business and the consumer that the FTC takes a close look at green marketing. Consumers stand to benefit from knowing if the products they buy are as eco-friendly as marketers claim. Businesses, on the other hand, can minimize the risk to their brands by making credible green claims about their products. As the Bite paper noted, companies that don’t intend to greenwash a product or service could be perceived to be doing just that because of a poorly organized PR effort.
“The harsh reality is that greenwashing no longer requires intent; merely embarking on an uninformed and poorly prepared sustainability initiative is enough to wreak havoc on corporate identity and brand value. …The combination of rapidly growing pressure on businesses to ‘act’ and a groundswell of market desire for business-based solutions, creates the perfect setting for greenwashing.”
The “right way” to go green is to be authentic, according to Bite, and that means putting sustainability goals and business goals on the same path. “Real action based on an authentic story that is open and vetted by trusted partners is the best offensive and defensive strategy,” the firm notes.
The TXU buyout deal is a good example of putting corporate and green goals on the same page. When the $38 billion buyout deal of TXU was being organized, Environmental Defense was brought in to help negotiate the environmental terms of the deal for the power plant operator.
On the other hand, Ford’s green annihilation by Toyota is a case study of what not to do. Ford made big promises to market greener cars by 2005 while the company was lining its pockets with SUV sale proceeds. When it became clear the company wouldn’t meet its goals, a campaign by the Bluewater Network and Rainforest Action Network blasted the automaker’s “gas guzzlers,” a push which paved the way for Toyota to grab the green market.