Do you value being environmentally friendly for your small business? That’s great! It might be a good thing to mix into your marketing. But when you do this, you’ll also need to be careful of greenwashing your business

Greenwashing is when a business promotes itself to suggest it’s more eco-friendly than it actually is. The idea is pretty straightforward, but how can you avoid doing it? Don’t worry; we’ve got you covered.  

This guide covers how to avoid greenwashing as a small business owner, including:

  • What is greenwashing? 
  • How can you avoid greenwashing?
  • Why does it matter?  

See also: How does being eco-friendly help my business?

What is greenwashing in marketing? 

It’s much easier to avoid greenwashing if you know how it works and what it might look like. Though the term is relatively new, it’s an important concept to grasp if you want to protect the reputation of your business

As we mentioned, greenwashing is when you misrepresent your business in your marketing as more ‘green’ than it really is

Say your business processes can harm the environment, but you fail to recognise this. Instead, you focus on the sustainable elements or imply that your operations are actually eco-friendly. That’s greenwashing. 

This claim can pull in customers who prioritise these values to earn more sales. But doing so is a dirty business practice as you suggest something that’s not entirely true

Examples of greenwashing 

Though you may not be trying to, it’s possible to greenwash your business accidentally. So, let’s look at a few examples to understand what it might look like. 

Coca-Cola 

In 2021, the environmental organisation Earth Island Institute sued Coca-Cola for falsely advertising itself as eco-friendly. 

The soft drink company implied it has sustainable practices and campaigned for a ‘World Without Waste’. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola remains the number one plastic polluter and refuses to get rid of plastic bottles. 

Chevron energy 

The American energy company Chevron was an early example of greenwashing. In the 1980s, Chevron promoted itself as an environmentally friendly and clean energy company

Meanwhile, they dumped oil into protected land areas and violated the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts

Today, Chevron has tried to be more transparent about its processes. Still, Bloomberg Green blamed them for greenwashing again in 2021 when announcing carbon emissions cuts. 

McDonald’s

The public has accused McDonald’s of greenwashing their business more than once.

In 2019, they introduced ‘eco-friendly’ paper straws only to suggest they were difficult to recycle and should go in general waste. 

In 2021, McDonald’s opened its first net-zero restaurant, which led to more greenwashing accusations. Some argue that it led the eye away from the chain’s main menu items (mass-produced meat and dairy products), which are still harmful to the environment

How to avoid greenwashing in small business 

Determine how ‘green’ your business is 

Before you market your business as ‘green’, examine your processes to determine how eco-friendly you actually are. It’s much easier to market yourself honestly with a concrete understanding of your business’s impact. 

By assessing your business and its impact on the environment, you can catch red flags like: 

  • Hidden trade-offs – Introducing a sustainable solution only to increase harm elsewhere within your business. 
  • Lesser of two evils – Marketing a solution as eco-friendly when it’s only slightly better than the original or alternative method.

As you look at your business, try to find spots that you can improve to make your processes better for the environment. If you truly focus on sustainable solutions, you can be greenwash-proof

Plus, try to find research and evidence to back up your eco-friendly claims

See also: How to be more environmentally friendly as a business

Look for the signs of misleading marketing 

You can also check your current marketing for signs of greenwashing. So look at your social media channel activity, website content, and other advertising or marketing materials. 

Here are a few signs to look out for: 

  • The information is vague, or there’s ‘fluff’ (unnecessary points). 
  • There’s no credibility or proof of eco-friendliness.
  • Your marketing over exaggerates the environmental impact.  
  • The claims are irrelevant to your business or the environment.  
  • There are suggestive pictures or designs that don’t relate.

Aim to be accurate and honest 

As you put together a marketing strategy around promoting your eco-friendliness, be sure to focus on accuracy. Aim to be honest in your marketing and only make claims you believe are true

If you’re too eager about your ‘green’ marketing, you can come across as inaccurate. Similarly, if you imply or suggest a vague truth, you can appear less trustworthy to your audience

So be careful to support your marketing with data or proof and be as realistic about your impact as possible

How greenwashing can hurt your business 

Once you know how to avoid greenwashing your business, you can be honest and ethical about your practices.  

This is important because getting called out for greenwashing can hurt your brand reputation and lower its overall credibility

Buyers often value sustainability, which affects their purchasing decisions. So, if people feel they can’t trust your business, you can lose interest and sales

Losing people’s business will lead to lower profits. If this continues, your business could face financial trouble. 

But, if you focus on credible eco-friendly marketing, you can express your business’s efforts clearly. Doing so will help you earn a positive reputation for it. You just need to use these tools to get that message across smartly. 

Look to Countingup as you grow your business with ‘green’ marketing

As you focus on trustworthy eco-friendly marketing, you can reach customers who value a positive environmental impact. Successful practices can grow your sales and increase your revenue. 

But, you’ll need to stay on top of your finances to succeed. 

Countingup, the business current account and accounting software in one app, can help. It automates time-consuming bookkeeping admin for thousands of self-employed people across the UK. 

Save yourself hours of accounting admin so you can focus on growing your business. 

Start your three-month free trial today

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