The practice of ‘greenwashing’ hit the headlines recently when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) unveiled its new ‘Green Claims Code’, designed to hold brands accountable for their sustainability claims. The announcement coincides with results of new research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), which has found half of UK marketers are now wary of working on sustainability campaigns, such is the fear of greenwashing accusations.
Unfortunately, this puts them at odds with consumers, who demand businesses be more active when it comes to sustainability – and with many business leaders, who recognise that sustainability must be a business priority. In fact, 51% of the companies we surveyed went as far as saying climate change could threaten the very existence of their business or clients.
At the same time, our research also shows increasingly savvy consumers are sceptical of brands’ sustainability efforts. The majority (63%) believe many only get involved with sustainability for commercial, rather than ethical, reasons.
It is for this reason we welcome the new CMA regulations. To make real progress in tackling climate change, we must see businesses be more open and transparent about their impact on the environment.
Far from shying away from communicating sustainability credentials, marketers should view anti-greenwashing guidance as a huge opportunity. If the law succeeds in combatting inaccurate sustainability claims, the market advantage will likely swing to brands that are successfully working to mitigate their social and environmental impact. And if you have the data to support this work, your marketers have everything they need to tell the story of your products credibly.
But businesses should also enable their marketing teams to upskill, giving them the tools and knowledge to feed into effective sustainability-led strategies with confidence. We found that 40% of marketers admit they do not have any marketing qualifications relating to sustainability, but are interested in one, revealing a critical skills gap that needs to be addressed.
Confidence to communicate sustainability claims will come more easily if brands approach everything they do with integrity. Without integrity, fears over greenwashing accusations may be justified. Brand owners need a robust sustainability strategy, which means not viewing marketing as a separate entity. Marketers can’t describe what they can’t see, and delivering accurate, substantiated claims depends on close collaboration.
Encouragingly, 71% of the marketers we spoke to feel they already have a voice within their company or with their clients when it comes to sustainability, demonstrating the positive impact they could have within businesses when armed with the right skills.
I would remind marketers that their job is not just about driving click-throughs or marketing a product. They are in a strong position to influence social change, mediating the relationship between brands and their customers. They can be a catalyst for positive change and have an important role to play in making sure brands have genuine sustainability claims high on the priority list.