Thought Leadership

Beware the greenwash trap: 3 sustainability marketing tips for beauty brands

Beware the greenwash trap: 3 sustainability marketing tips for beauty brands
Beauty shoppers are rightly on the lookout for greenwashing. Here's how to get it right when sharing your product sustainability credentials. (Credit: Sarah Chai)

In a time where beauty giants like Bondi Sands are being caught out for greenwashing, marketing your positive impact correctly has never been more important. 

The retail market is experiencing a shift towards value-driven shopping, with 79% of consumers changing their purchase preferences based on sustainability. As a result, the beauty industry is rife with greenwashing tactics to win back their customers, and shoppers are getting wise to it: 41% of beauty shoppers surveyed by The Pull Agency in 2022 said that greenwashing was now noticeable in the industry. With consumer skepticism growing, it’s perhaps unsurprising that nearly half of UK marketers are scared of communicating their company or clients’ sustainability credentials.

Luckily, it’s easier than you think to get it right. Below, we’re sharing simple, accessible steps to enhance your brand’s sustainability marketing opportunities (Kim Kardashian, take notes).

1. Prove your claims

Successful marketers talk the talk and walk the walk; every sustainability claim should be able to be backed up by clear, relevant evidence, accessible to shoppers. ​​81% of consumers say transparency is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ to them when shopping, so don’t shy away from sharing the proof behind your statements.

Bondi Sands have been hit with class action against their ‘reef friendly’ sunscreen (Credit: Cottonbro)

Market examples

Last year, South Korean cosmetics brand Innisfree launched a green-tea beauty product in what it labelled a "paper bottle", as part of a wider brand initiative to reduce plastic packaging. In April, a customer discovered that it was in fact simply a plastic bottle wrapped in paper, prompting social media outrage and an apology from the brand. Launching the bottle with a ‘reduced plastic’ claim would have been a more effective approach, avoiding misinformation and supporting the brand’s sustainable marketing strategy. 

Provenance tips

Marketers working in the limited confines of an e-commerce product page might wonder exactly how and where they’re expected to share detailed proof behind every sustainability claim. 

Technology provides a scalable solution. Provenance’s Proof Points are interactive icons representing a claim about a business or product, allowing you to embed shopper-friendly public evidence directly to your claims. Customers can access streamlined information on both product and brand-level pages with a single, CMA-backed click.

2. Use shopper-friendly, specific language

Customers don’t need flowery words like ‘green’ and ‘eco-friendly’ if there’s no clear definition to follow. Clarify what you’re claiming as much as you can (and which part of the supply chain you’re talking about) and use simple, understandable language to increase customer understanding of your sustainability efforts.

Market examples

A few years ago, The Soil Association’s 'Come Clean About Beauty' campaign called out household names like Boots, Rituals and Dr Organic for misleading use of the term ‘organic’. Products comprising just 15% organic ingredients were boldly labelled organic on pack, whilst in some cases products marketed as organic in a holistic sense in fact contained ingredients that weren’t permitted in certified organic products. 

Provenance tips

As a marketer, it’s not easy to know how to phrase your claims. The Provenance Framework is a free-to-use collection of 50+ jargon-free claims about social and environmental impact, using consistent language to help shoppers understand sustainability efforts. Instead of labelling your product with ‘Planet-friendly packaging’, use more specific language such as ‘Widely recyclable packaging’ and include details as to which components can be recycled and where.

Simple, jargon-free language helps your customers understand sustainability claims

For more inspiration and clarification on how to make ‘green’ claims, Provenance co-developed the Planet Positive Beauty Guide with the British Beauty Council’s Sustainable Beauty Coalition. The Guide decodes complicated jargon with straightforward descriptions of the words most often used by the beauty industry – helping shoppers understand some of the key issues and things to look for.

3. Avoid self-accreditation

83% of shoppers are more likely to trust a product’s sustainability claim if it's verified by a third party. Brands should use recognised industry certifications wherever possible, such as Leaping Bunny Cruelty Free, COSMOS Organic or FSC, to certify your sustainability claims and establish brand trust.

Market examples

‘Natural’ is a term that can mean everything and nothing in the beauty industry. In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission charged five companies on false claims that their products were “all natural” or “100% natural,” despite containing synthetic ingredients. The Commission emphasised a requirement for “competent and reliable evidence” for any future claims from these companies, but really any beauty products marketed as ‘natural’ should be supported by recognised certifications (for example, Natrue Natural).

Provenance tips

Look for opportunities to use recognised industry certifications and check out Provenance’s open-source framework to identify suitable verification bodies. If you’ve put the work into earning a certification, consider digitising it within your ecommerce ecosystem to boost shopper trust and conversion.

Pai Skincare are proudly sharing their products’ organic credentials on multiple ecommerce channels. With Provenance, they are sharing helpful information about their Soil Association Organic certifications behind the click.

Although it can feel daunting to navigate the world of sustainability marketing, there’s simple ways to enhance your value-driven communications and win brand trust. In anything you do, customers will value your brand’s transparency over perfection.

For any questions about your sustainability marketing strategy, get in touch with a member of the Provenance team and kickstart your brand’s transparency journey today.

The Provenance Team

Sharing insights, trends and our latest thinking as we push the transparency movement forward.

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