Communicate on sustainable issues increases awareness. Organisations are playing a crucial role in this manner, as most of us relate to some of them. But how, as an organisation, can I show my involvement in sustainability? Through communication, yes, but not only; some evidences may be expected from your main customers, all your stakeholders. Communicate on sustainable issues should not be considered as a simple trend and treated as so. In other words, organisations must be careful to not fall into greenwashing.

Green that is not truly green 

Generally if communication related to environment is not true, it is qualified as “greenwashing”. What does it mean? Greenwashing could be defined as “exposing false environmental claims” (the Guardian). This word comes from the expression “whitewashing”, a metaphor to explain the attempt to hide unpleasant facts, especially in the context of corporations, governments or other organisations. Greenwashing relates to an environmental context. It qualifies an organisation that “spends more time and money claiming to be “green” through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimise environmental impact.”  But… How could it be identified as so?

Greenwashingindex.com invites consumers to post and rate advertisings “promoting the environmental qualities of a product or company” according to their level of reliability based on criteria: words used, design used, environmental claim, truth of the message. Greenwashingindex.com aims “to educate consumers about how to “read” an ad and encourage them to decide for themselves if what they [are] seeing is greenwashing” and therefore, encourage businesses to “have a sustainable business” before they advertise it, and ” be accountable for the sustainable practices they claim to have”. In short they aim to “put an end to the greenwashing and get busy with real environmental change.”

Since 2007 TerraChoice, an environmental marketing and consulting firm, has published a collection of reports named: The Sins of Greenwashing. These studies aim “to update the state of knowledge of environmental claims” in North American Consumer Markets, to determine the “Sins of Greenwashing”, to give recommendations to consumers to better consume and guidelines to marketers to better communicate (The Six Sins of Greenwashing, 2007; The Seven Sins of Greenwashing, 2009; The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and family edition, 2010). TerraChoice has defined 7 “Sins of Greenwashing”:

  1. Sin of the hidden trade-off
  2. Sin of no proof
  3.  Sin of vagueness
  4. Sin of worshiping false labels
  5. Sin of irrelevance
  6. Sin of the lesser of two devils
  7. Sin of fibbing

However, the study insists that “only perfectly green product should [not] be market as environmentally preferable”; indeed there is a difference between claiming being “green” and being “greener”.  Today, there is no such perfectly “green” product available on the market.  There is however:  “environmentally preferable products” that are ‘greener’ and not ‘green’.

To not do greenwashing “does not mean waiting for a perfect [green] product”, but to market and communicate with honesty and transparency, and thus avoiding the 7 sins defined by TerraChoice. (Source: The Seven Sins of Greenwashing, 2009). According to the 2010 study, in North America, “since 2009 the number of “greener” products has [increased] by 73%”. This is a positive trend, as organisations appear to innovate in a “greener” way.  However, in 2010, “greenwashing is still a significant problem […] [as] over 95% of “greener” products commit[ted] one or more of the 7 “Sins of Greenwashing””. (Source: The Sins of Greenwashing: Home and family edition, 2010)

Greenwashing can take any form of communication actions: information written on the packaging, slogan used to advertise a product, etc. Organisations are more and more collaborating together in the purpose of reporting these practices. For the Olympics 2012, Greenwash Gold 2012 campaign has been developed by three organisations – London Mining Network, Bhopal Medical Appeal and UK Tar Sands Network. Greenwash Gold medal has been created to reward the “dodgy company” that has “cover[ed] up the most environmental destruction and devastat[ed] the most communities while pretending to be a good corporate citizen by sponsoring the Olympic Games.”  Nominated organisations were sponsors of the Olympics 2012, voters were the public. (Source: http://www.greenwashgold.org/).

Communicate on what is truly greener 

Today’s stakeholders are more and more aware of sustainability issues and want to consume better, the most “environmental-friendly” possible. Thus they have expectations from the brands they usually buy, and from the general market. This for-greener-products demand pushes organisation to innovate towards greener products. Environmental progress takes time and is progressing; these progresses will be rewarded by consumers.

However, today buzz can be created so fast thanks to (or because of) the Internet possibilities: social media such as blog, Facebook, Twitter etc. Most of organisations – Turkish organisations too, but at a slower pace though compared to North America and Europe – are considering more sustainability issues in their strategy: policy to reduce carbon emissions etc. Therefore communications on these initiatives should be seen as a positive trend, right? Perhaps not always, if not real and misleading.

Trust. Trust is probably one of the major components of strategies adopted by organisations. People are more suspicious than in the 1960’s, especially since Internet is considered as a basic tool to verify information. Any information that consumers can get, will be checked on the Internet: for opinions, comparisons with other alternatives etc. Therefore, organisations must inspired trust to their stakeholders and be trusted by their stakeholders, thus be prudent while communicating. Does my communication reflect truly the initiatives I am doing? Does my communication vehicle properly the image of my organisation?

Some inspirational campaigns 

In 2001, Method cleaning products was launched by Adam Lowry and Eric Ryan. More than a revolutionary concept and innovation, the campaigns used to promote the products are just… A breathe of fun and creativity! Finally promotions of sustainable products that do not make you feel guilty or preachify you on your actions! The campaigns launched sensitise you in the matter of better consuming (cleaning) with efficient and “both people- and pet-friendly” products though. Since March 2012, you can watch the videos campaigns made by Method on YouTube to promote their cleaning products: “method: say no to jugs; method: clean happy anthem; method: high five a rainbow”. So refreshing and original! Why? It does not show classical and typical cleaning actions; such as a kitchen plate full of grease and sponged in once thanks to a strong product. Besides, the pop side of it turns the cleaning chore as a funnier activity – we could expect Monica Geller (Friends) to pop out and tell us: “I told you, let’s have fun together!”


Another example of great campaign but in another category is TOMS. Very inspiring! For Christmas 2008, TOMS launched the “Project Holiday Campaign”. The purpose was to give 30.000 pairs of shoes to a child in need in Ethiopia. To do so, TOMS promoted its action through a video explaining the reasons of such action: “For every pair you purchase, TOMS will give a pair of shoes to a child in need. One for One.” (Source: TOMS Project Holiday YouTube video). By the end of the operation, TOMS has not only exceeded their goal by 23%, but also raised awareness for their cause. (Source: www.ecopreneurist.com). The impact was so huge that “One to One” has become a trademark and a permanent sale operation: “One person buys. One person is helped” is the motto. Not so long after, Blake Mycoskie (TOMS founder) even launched a similar operation for sight: “One pair of TOMS glasses = Sight for one person”. Such a successful story based on giving! With end year holidays coming, it can make us think…

Last but not least, the communication made by organisations must be in line with their strategy. Most important, the communication must be simply true.