Greenwashing: what can the communicators of today do to stop it?
We’ve all heard the term Greenwashing, mostly associated with communication campaigns. With the rise of corporate social responsibility, it’s a term that has been talked about more and more, especially in the Public Relations world. But what is it? And how can the communication specialists of today help decrease this growing problem through the gift they have been given: the power of words?
When we talk about Greenwashing, we are referring the covering up of negative information related to an organization’s performance by exposing only positive information. This can also be called selective disclosure, which is a term used in this area of study. It’s usually associated with environmental practices, thus the name. It’s not lying through campaigns, but being selective of the words used in copywriting, for example.
As communication professionals it’s important to understand what we are contributing to. It’s part of the job to highlight strong information we believe is relevant to our partners and focus all our efforts on those arguments, however, it’s also up to us to think about the impact the words chosen will have in the consumer or business we are trying to reach with our messages.
If we know that the information we are putting out there is not 100% truthful then it’s a lose-lose scenario: the consumer will eventually find out, which could lead to a major reputation fall out for the brand, as we’ve seen happen countless of times. Not all press is good press, especially in a world that favors the protection of the environment more and more each day.
The fact is that it’s more common every day that consumers take information at face value, such is the case with the growing problem of Fake News. It is no exception that people will look at a Public Relations or Marketing campaign and assume what is written there as the truth, without doing any further investigation. While believing that our behavior is ethical, as communication professionals we are misleading them and hurting the environment in the process.
So how can we, as people who work in the industry causing the problem, help stop it? We can help prevent misleading of consumers or businesses through Greenwashing by being through in our investigation of the brands initiatives, be critical of the content we are producing and, above all else, take a consultant’s approach to the way we work.
By analyzing previous communication campaigns, we can conclude that the use of Greenwashing can only get a brand so far before it all “blows up in their face”. As such, we must take on the role of consultants and recommend better alternatives to this issue like, for example, align the campaign or brand with an outside organization that works as a spokesperson, giving them more credibility through an external source, which will, of course, only work if the brand truly is ethical.
Having the power to influence behavioral change is something not to be taken lightly and as communicators we must think thoroughly of the impact we have on the world. Considering how much the planet needs everyone’s help to save it, we also must do our part in our everyday work life, in the end we need to decide if we want to be part of the problem or of the solution.