Reading, watching or listening to anything these days without encountering an advertisement promoting some form of sustainability messaging is difficult. I feel like I hear ExxonMobil championing its commitment to “advancing climate solutions” almost every morning on NPR. These ads always elicit an exasperated huff while brushing my teeth, and all I can think is, “ExxonMobil? Really?”
I’m not the only one huffing and rolling my eyes each morning. NPR did a story on how major oil companies aren’t following through with their climate promises in early 2022, calling out the same ads that often appear on their programs. According to a GreenPrint survey, 53% of American consumers said they “sometimes” or “never” believe a company’s environmental claims.
American consumers are becoming more aware of “greenwashing,” a marketing term for when a company promotes itself and its products as environmentally friendly without any real actions to support its messaging. These misleading statements have even led to a rise in lawsuits over the last several years.
As Earth Day approaches, brands should consider these dubious messages more than ever. To ensure your company doesn’t succumb to the pitfalls of “greenwashing,” here are a few tips on strategically positioning your clients in the “green” space.
Don’t Force Sustainable Messaging
As Chris Brown quipped in 2011, “Don’t hate from outside the club if you can’t even get in.” Millennial rap lyrics aside, this one’s pretty obvious. If your client isn’t in the green/cleantech space or doesn’t have goals or values that align with sustainability, don’t try to force it.
A significant part of our jobs as PR professionals is to make recommendations to our clients that make sense for them. Sounds easy, right? But how many of us can relate to politely telling a client that while this messaging campaign is popular at the moment, it’s not a conversation they need to be a part of? Sometimes, the best strategy is to take a step back and highlight the voices of those in the industry with real expertise.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
A blog post about sustainability isn’t complete without referencing Kermit the Frog, but Kermit is right. Commitments to sustainability aren’t meant to be easy. Consumers have learned to become weary of broad generalizations about environmental consciousness. Messaging campaigns around sustainability, especially in the technological field, should be specific.
If you’re going to pitch journalists around Earth Day, your strategy must have proof points to back up your messaging. Simply saying, “My client can talk about how their company promotes sustainability with its product or service,” is not enough. You need to offer specific information on how.
Take the opportunity to show off the hard work your client has done to solve a particular problem. Provide details on the trial and error of the technical process. Highlight lessons learned through research and development. Not only do these details help shape a compelling narrative, but they also provide validity to your client’s expertise.
You can’t boil the ocean
Nothing screams “greenwashing” like a company claiming it alone can solve climate change. On top of being vague, greenwashing strategies often tend to be overly ambitious and unrealistic. The odds are, if your client is in the green space, their technology or service focuses on one specific aspect of a complex problem, which isn’t bad!
As PR professionals, remembering that our clients live and breathe the work they do is important, especially if they’re entrepreneurs and innovators. One of the things we love about our clients at Comprise is how passionate they are about their work — we’re passionate too — but we also have to provide context rooting their message in reality.
Successful messaging campaigns, especially in the green/cleantech space, are specific, measurable and don’t overembellish. For example, one of our clients has created technology to help inform developers in the wind energy industry to determine the optimal place to position wind turbines. Focusing on the bigger picture of how renewable energy resources, like wind energy, create a greener future would be easy. A truthful message would highlight how a “greener future” isn’t possible without accurate data and research.
Our messaging campaigns for this client rely heavily on the importance of accurate data and information and how gathering this data is even possible. While the work may not seem glamorous and heroic, it’s essential and honest.
Successful communication strategies make consumers feel empowered, and nothing makes human beings feel more empowered than knowing they have accurate information and are trusted to make their own decisions.
Greenwashing doesn’t work because it relies on consumers’ assumed attitude of indifference.
Besides consumers, the media are highly skeptical of and resistant to greenwashing campaigns. Any good journalist will do their research and quickly disassemble a misleading message. If you want to break through the “trash” of greenwashing, approach your communications strategy with honest and specific messaging. Doing so will make your clients and their customers happy and encourage positive relationships with the media.
Are you having trouble establishing your brand in the green space? Our team has the PR experience to help develop engaging and honest content that converts your audience and captures your brand. We’ll work with you to create a strategy that meets your unique needs. Why wait? Contact Comprise today!