Giving the green light: greenwashing, green shifting, and accurately marketing your ESG
- 5th October
The market has reached a tipping point. Organisations are expected to prove their sustainability credentials not only by mandated directives and government initiatives, but via significant pressure from customers and clients.
Sustainability can prove to be a big competitive advantage for IT and technology businesses. Of course, socially responsible marketing can be a bit of a minefield. But just because it’s hard, it doesn’t mean you can do nothing and avoid the problem (otherwise known as greenhushing – we’ll get onto that in a bit).
Before we get to grips with the right way to go green, let’s break down the potential pitfalls facing businesses on their sustainability journey.
Meet your greens
Greenwashing gone wrong
Greenwashing examples are far too common. Most come from B2C, but that’s predominantly because the B2B world is so far behind on even launching sustainability initiatives.
• HSBC – ran a series of ads promoting their investment in ecological projects… but kept their oil and gas investments hush-hush. These investments created roughly 65.3 trillion tonnes of CO2 per year.
• Keurig – made false claims about their recycling efforts. In 2022, they were called out for packaging that stated their coffee pods were easily recyclable. This was far from the truth and resulted in a $3m fine and an order to replace all packaging.
• Shell – accused of greenwashing many times, including by veritable eco heavyweight Greta Thunberg. They’ve had marketing mishaps with polls that gaslighted followers about their sustainability endeavours, and a UK scandal when their ads made misleading claims about providing clean energy.
The consequences of greenwashing are real, and could seriously damage a company’s rep. The European Commission has even proposed enforcing penalties, with fines of at least 4% of transgressors’ annual revenue.
It’s tough; particularly for IT and technology organisations who are inevitably associated with being big drains on resources and energy. With teams predominantly focused on operations, less time is spent thinking about sustainability. But it can make or break a sale if a customer has eco-led targets to meet as part of their procurement process. Having reliable data and evidencable credibility therefore needs to be a fundamental part of your sustainability strategy.
Evidencing your authenticity with sustainability certifications
For many European companies, sustainable certifications aren’t simply an option – they’re a necessity. And with the UK Government announcing a target of net zero for UK greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, businesses must strive for compliance.
Choosing what credentials to pursue should be tailored to your business and its goals. Here are some of the accreditations your customers and clients could be looking out for when assessing what you have to offer:
- An outward-facing ESG policy, which may or may not include your business’ response to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
- B Corp Certification, or your actions to achieve the designation
- A range of sustainability-driven ISOs including: 14001, 26000, 20400, 50001, 14064
- Net-zero scopes
Now although these certifications can help your business evidence authenticity, you must continue to maintain efforts and momentum in the long-term.
Many organisations make the mistake of treating certifications as one-time commitments that can be name-dropped in their marketing for years to come, without making any other sustainable efforts. This is textbook greenwashing.
Creating a long-term sustainability strategy
Creating a sustainability strategy that lasts means originating systems and processes that stimulate evidence as they grow. This may take the form of carbon offsetting through reduced logistics, or choosing to partner with organisations that help make your supply chain more environmentally considerate.
It’s vital that you generate your own sustainability evidence as well as garnering it from other resources. Spend time closely examining your business data to spot opportunities for change, activities worth tracking and areas for improvement. In doing so, you’ll be fuelling both positive change and your marketing content.
Of course it’s all very well and good saying this, but you’ll need to consider who’s responsible for driving, evidence and encouraging this action within your organisation. Yes, sustainability must be a collective effort if it’s to be a success, but someone needs to take charge.
Sustainability roles are on the up
Sustainability roles are increasingly featuring in business board line-ups.
The role of a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) in particular is on the rise. According to a 2022 study, the number of CSOs holding an executive level position increased to 28% in 2021, more than tripling from 9% in 2016. Since then, that number has only increased.
CSOs are responsible for creating programs that systematically motivate and inspire entire organisations to start thinking about environmental impact, balancing science and sustainability initiatives with business imperatives. CSOs must work in close partnership with their marketing team to ensure the right information is reaching the right audiences in a compliant and positive way that ultimately helps gain a competitive advantage.
But, not every organisation can afford a CSO or, in some cases, a marketing team. So, it’s often down to the most sustainability-minded individuals to ensure that their company is complying with regulations, acting on the goals they’ve set out, and reflecting these efforts through their marketing.
This is all much easier to do and maintain if sustainability is embedded into your organisation’s value proposition, and if you have the right people on your side. The fourth and final blog in this series is coming soon, and will delve into this exact topic. Can’t wait till then? Check out our previous blog on value proposition design. And if you have any questions, you know where we are.
Geoff Undrell has over 20 years experience working in the IT channel with resellers, distributors and vendors.