Thought Leadership

Is your brand about to get cancelled for greenwashing?

Is your brand about to get cancelled for greenwashing?

Transparency expectations are mounting to a pressure point that your business can’t afford to ignore.

A few years ago, being ‘cancelled’ was something only producers of TV shows needed to worry about.

But the phenomenon of cancel culture – the practice of publicly withdrawing support for a person or company on social media – is now something that we need to be aware of as leaders in business.

Why is this important? Because this isn’t a passing fad. From comedians, to online communities, to a growing army of conscious shoppers – citizens are demanding better; the most extreme are calling for brands to be cancelled.

They want a commitment to positive impact for people and the planet, and transparency from the businesses they buy from on their efforts.

They are wary that brands could make misleading claims about the environmental impact of what they are selling – a phenomenon known as greenwashing.

Rise to the new expectations of citizens and the government

The pressure to address your business practices is rising.

New UK laws have been proposed to help prevent shoppers from buying food grown on rainforest land that has been illegally logged and inadvertently playing a role in an environmental crime through their supermarket basket.

And companies that market their products or services as eco-friendly are going to be scrutinised by the UK competition watchdog to make sure they live up to the claim and do not mislead consumers.

Expectations from citizens are also on the rise. 23% of global consumers want brands to lead by example and guide change and 75% of US consumers want companies to maintain changes they’ve made due to COVID-19 that have a positive environmental impact.

The World Economic Forum has called this opportunity, “The Great Reset”, and encourages measurement against a triple bottom line: planet, people, profit.

Build a glass box brand based on transparency to avoid greenwashing

Building a ‘glass box brand’ – letting those outside your company see the people, processes and values that are held within your business – can take the heat off this pressure point situation.

Backing up your brand claims with a verified trail of evidence is a simple yet effective way of reducing risk.

To capture this opportunity you need to build relationships and a shared language between brand, marketing, supply chain and sustainability teams in your organisation.

A good example of disclosure is Asket’s Impact Receipt that illustrates the CO2 emissions, water and energy consumption from their traced supply chain.

Be bold in ambition, but humble in achievements

But, what happens when you have a long, challenging road ahead of you before you feel confident about being honest about your practices across the breadth of your business?

One concern I often hear is that being transparent about one area of your business will lead to more difficult questions… ones that may be harder to answer.

But, we see time and time again from truly open brands (those not on a greenwashing campaign) that people appreciate progress and reward honesty.

Nearly half of Gen Zs & Millennials would trust a brand more if they were being honest, even about their problems (Consumer Goods Forum & Futerra, 2019).

And it pays dividends when it comes to employee engagement. Data from professional services organisation EY shows, “over 70% of business leaders recognise that a strong company purpose drives innovation and nurtures employee satisfaction. It can even increase productivity by around 30%.”

Without proof of brand claims, and with cancel culture growing online, it might not be a matter of if you’re at risk of being pulled up on any shady practices, but when.

Just look at Ryanair and BMW who both had adverts banned on the grounds that they were making misleading environmental claims.

Take your audience along with you on your journey and you’ll be surprised at the help, positivity and brand building it will achieve.

Help conscious shoppers to make informed choices with credible information

As leaders prioritising sustainability, we must ensure we’re sharing truthful information that’s backed up with proof about the origin, journey and impact of products.

This is where you can have the integrity and confidence to shout about your wins both internally and externally. You can be confident in communicating it because the proof is all there.

It reduces risk, and makes it a much safer, more comfortable and honest place for your marketers to use in their communications.

By doing so, this significantly increases your chance of “winning” in a flooded market rife with greenwashing.

The threat of cancellation has moved far beyond the realms of TV, and firmly onto the agendas of business leaders. By embracing impact transparency, you can ensure you are able to control your own storyline.

To find out how Provenance can help your brand communicate with integrity and confidence, click here.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

Jessi Baker

Designer, technologist and the founder of provenance.org.

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