How to avoid greenwashing

The do’s and don’ts to avoid misleading information on environmental and sustainability credentials.

How to make the right choices:

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is the practice of misrepresenting or making inflated claims about a product, service or business’ environmental or sustainability credentials. This can include making vague and unqualified claims regarding environmental benefits, making tenuous comparisons between products or services, or setting aspirational targets without evidence of meaningful action undertaken to achieve them.

In a world where sustainability is increasingly seen as a significant competitive advantage, greenwashing is a form of misleading or deceptive conduct. Greenwashing is illegal under the Australian Consumer Law.

While many people may think of greenwashing as a deliberate act by an unscrupulous business operator, using unclear language, omitting important information, or unintentionally misusing third-party certifications when advertising and marketing products and services, well-intentioned businesses may also inadvertently engage in greenwashing.

Greenwashing can harm your brand

Avoiding greenwashing should be a primary consideration for everyone marketing a product or service. In addition to the growing threat of enforcement action by corporate regulators, greenwashing can cause considerable harm to a brand and undermine consumer trust in environmentally conscious products and services.

There are several simple things you can do to ensure your marketing materials promote sustainability and environmental benefits in an honest and accurate manner. Find out how to avoid inadvertently greenwashing below.

Choose the right language

Use clear and concise language

When promoting environmental credentials, choose clear language and avoid unnecessary jargon with any potential to confuse a consumer. Exercise caution when using ‘marketing speak.’ Terms such as ‘industry-leading’ or ‘all-natural’ may be considered as exaggerating the benefits of a product or service that can mislead a consumer.

Be specific

All environmental claims must be specific to the product or service you are promoting. Providing broad, general statements about the environmental impact of your company can also mislead a consumer if your claims are conflated to include your products or services. Here is an example:

If your organisation has achieved the Australian Government-endorsed Climate Active Carbon Neutral Certification for the operations alone (therefore a Certified Organisation), communications about certified carbon neutrality, including use of the logo, cannot incorporate products or services or allow for any possible confusion. Products and services must each undergo separate certification processes and be communicated accordingly.

Provide evidence

Your organisation must be able to substantiate any environmental claims with evidence and your consumers must have easy access to the evidence either on the product or service itself or on your organisation’s website. In addition to individual products or services, this requirement can also apply to company-wide aspirational targets such as ‘net zero by 2050’. In such instances, to avoid greenwashing you must provide clear evidence on the measures undertaken to achieve your net zero targets and clearly and accurately explain future plans.

Use certifications and accreditations correctly

Read the guidelines associated with environmental certifications or accreditations carefully so you use the correct logo(s) and acceptable language. Taking Climate Active as an example, clearly state how the certification applies to your business in any promotion or communication, including any exceptions or limitations such as any relevant emissions boundaries.

Conduct a website and marketing audit

Perform a comprehensive review of your organisation’s website and promotional materials to ensure all messaging is correct, accurate, and up to date. Such a review should be done regularly to remove or change any outdated information.

Ask us

If you have any concerns or questions about greenwashing or would like more information, please contact us to speak to one of our knowledgeable consultants.