Avoid greenwashing

in your marketing.

A new quick guide from the Danish Forbrugerombudsmanden gives you a guideline to help you avoid illegal marketing.

Here you’ll find a couple of tips to help you avoid misleading your customers regarding your green initiatives. Are you in a business where ecology and sustainability are buzzwords at the moment? To ensure that there is action behind the words, a series of demands have been put in place that you need to be aware of.

The marketing legislation also pertain to the marketing that concerns enviromental claims. This is relevant for when you are calling attention to your product by calling it less burdensome for the environment or more environmentally friendly. Greenwashing occurs when you promise more than what is possible to document.

Forbrugerombudsmanden overarching recommendation is to be as precise as possible, when you are talking about your efforts to help the environment or the climate. If it is impossible to be precise, it is recommended that you avoid using claims about being enviromentally friendly or sustainable in your marketing.

 

No misdirection – claims need to be documented

No matter if you are communicating about sustainability in your business in general or regarding a specific initiative, it needs to be documented. If you for example want use words like “green”, “environmentally friendly”, or “sustainable”, it is necessary to have your product’s life cycle analyzed (LCA) to be able to prove that there is truth to the claim.

Furthermore, it is also necessary to have proof that only a marginal change has occured. A marked and documented improvement for the environment is necessary to avoid greenwashing. Therefore, it is crucial that you support your initiatives with detailed calculations that clearly show an improvement.

Documenting claims.

Concrete claims are easiest to document.

The marketing legislation distinguish between general and concrete claim when using it in the marketing about topics relating to the climate and environment. An obvious advantage about using concrete claims about improvements for the environment that come with using your products, is that you are communicating the most precise information to your customers.

Concrete claims are the clearest way to green marketing since you are getting measureable results that can prove that you for example have reduced your emissions by a certain percentage. The demands for concrete claims still are that you need to document that the claim is correct and that you aren’t leaving out essential information in connection with your marketing.

General claims also need commitment.

If you are using general claims with information about a concrete advantage for the climate or enviroment regarding your product, you aren’t required to document the truthfulness about the claim with a life cycle analysis. However, you do need to ensure that the general claim is supplied with an explanation about the claim.

An example of a general claim about a climate and enviromental advantage according to the guide from Forbrugerombudsmanden is: “Travel enviromentally friendly”. This claim has to be supported with an explanation: “Use public transport instead of the car since a bus or a train with a minimum of x passengers emit less CO2 than a corresponding amount of cars with a person in each car”.

In short, it has to be obvious what the general claim is related to. That is why it is more challenging to guard oneself against greenwashing with general claims.

Example: You want to communicate a reduction of CO2 emissions.

If you are marketing your company by using claims about a reduced emission of greenhouse gases, there are a couple of demands. For example, if you are using claims like ”30% CO2-reduction” you need to be able to answer “yes” to the following questions:

  • Do you have a plan for your reduction that is verified by an independent organization?
  • Do you have a detailed account of your present and expected CO2-emissions?
  • Do you contemporary documentation for the development of your reduction?
  • Can you show a full overview of your emission that shows that you aren’t emitting anything, if you are marketing yourself as CO2-neutral?
  • If you are using climate compensation agreement, can you describe clearly and obviously what the agreement means for your customers?

What is sustainability?

”Sustainability” – What does it really mean?

When you are specifically using the words “sustainable”, there are couple of things to note. First and foremost, all claims about sustainability needs to be based on a life cycle analysis. The analysis gives you a guarantee with regards to your choices. Ethical, social and health circumstances are also taken into account in the analysis. The rules for the use of “sustainable” are quite strict, and it is also difficult to avoid misleading customers by calling products sustainable.

However, it is possible market your company by saying that you are striving for sustainability. This necessitates a plan for how you are going to become sustainable which also needs to be verified by an independent institution. Your plan also has to be measurable so that your can show that your impact on the environment is lessened.

You can also market your company by intiating sustainble action. This requires that you divulged which actions you have made, and whether it has promoted biodiversity or lessened the environmental impact.

Specifically about branding, slogans and mottos.

Your company’s motto, slogan or vision are also encompassed by the marketing legislation. That is why you also need to document that truthfulness of the claim you are communicating when you use environmental claims here. The same is true for the name of your company as well as product names, pictures, symbols and colors.

That is why the Forbrugerombudsmanden also recommend to only use claims about goals and visions where you can show actual change you have initiated or is imminent and measureable.