Recent events at Volkswagen have perhaps refocused attention on Brand and the need to protect reputation above short-term profit or sales figures, but do companies really understand the need for less talk and more action when it comes to greenwashing?
Sadly, no they don't. Greenwashing and the misuse of eco-credentials in the marketing mix of many companies is a virus waiting to explode. It looks like a harmless activity - using what advertising agencies regard as 'licence' when developing their marketing messages, when in fact it is a time bomb waiting to destroy your image, Brand and reputation.
What makes it worse is that the vast majority of company executives either ignore the practice or they endorse the claims as 'smart' and 'imaginative'. In the case of VW, they chose to ignore the warnings that they had been made aware of almost two years ahead of the recent problems, giving rise to charges of 'fraud' and illegal activity on their part. Being caught-out is not simply going to result in a slap on the wrist for those involved - it has serious immediate and long-term financial and reputational impacts on the brand itself.
Recently, a global company has been flighting ad space on DSTV about their washing powder that has been formulated to reduce climate change - without providing a shred of evidence to support the claim. In another of their adverts, they claim their well-known food stock is made from vegetables and produce obtained from sustainable farming methods across the world. Again, not an iota of evidence to support the claim. Now, one would expect the company to provide evidence on their website at least, by this company has even failed in that objective. And why?
Greenwashing continues to happen because it is so easy. It is precisely because we see it and tend to either ignore it or buy-into the storyline that it continues to grow, and when the marketing jargon is proved untrue, we collectively feign surprise and shock when in fact what we should have been doing is challenging the claims when they were first made.
An argument takes two people to happen. Bribery and corruption takes the recipient and the provider to happen. And so too, greenwashing takes place because of our indifference. If as consumers, we took a stand and challenged the eco-claims that are being made by manufacturers and marketing gurus, greenwashing would not happen.
So, to all of you that bought a diesel VW in the past ten years - take a closer look at the claims and start asking the obvious questions. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true - it usually is. I prefer to change that saying to 'if it looks too green to be green, it probably isn’t green'.