What are the most effective ways for corporations to communicate their environmental initiatives?
In 2007, within my circle of colleagues, authentic seemed to be the word that best captured the desired impact of CSR communications. Authenticity, however, isnt easy to come by especially when consumers and other stakeholders are paying more attention than ever to what corporations are doing and what they say theyre doing.
Corporate environmental initiatives, claims, and communications are a touchstone for both internal and external stakeholders and the term “greenwashing” has become ubiquitous. Coined by environmental activists in 2004 to describe efforts by corporations to portray themselves as environmentally responsible in order to mask environmental wrongdoings, greenwashing describes misleading instances of environmental advertising and a wider range or corporate activities, including, environmental reporting, event sponsorship, the distribution of educational materials, and the creation of “front groups.”
The main objective of greenwashing is to give consumers and policy makers the impression that the company is taking the necessary steps to manage its ecological footprint. (source Business Ethics)
Recently a colleague sent me a link to the innovative Greenwashing Indexhome of the worlds first online interactive forum that allows consumers to evaluate real advertisements making environmental claims. Consumer advocacy sites like this one will become more common and more important for corporate communications executives to monitor. Heres how Environmental Social Marketing(the authors of Greenwashing Index) advise consumers to evaluate green marketing:
1. Truth: If you see a green ad, take a look at the company as a whole. Can you easily find more information about their sustainable business practices on their Web site? Do they have a comprehensive environmental story? Is there believable information to substantiate the green claims you saw in the ad? If not, buyer beware.
2. The Whole Truth: Next, try this. Google the company name plus the word environment and see what pops up. This is far from scientific, but if consumers or environmental advocates have a beef with the company’s track record, somethings bound to pop up.
3. And Nothing But The Truth: I know it when I see it. Those are the words of Supreme Court Justice Warren Potter in a ruling on hard-core pornography in 1964. As weird as it may seem, those are words to live by for the consumer and green marketing claims. If you spot a green ad, how does it strike your gut? Does it ring true and authentic, or is it obviously hype? Smart shoppers abound globally, and your own scrutiny of green marketing claims is one more item to throw into your shopping cart.
I think these are also good considerations for people inside corporations as well.