Consumers no longer prefer brands that incorporate environmental initiatives – they demand it. It is no longer a novel feature reserved for what was once labeled ‘eco’ brands but is widely expected from consumers regardless of the industry. Still, there is additional pressure on consumer brands within the health, lifestyle, pharma, skin, and wellness sectors to prioritize sustainable, social, and environmentally conscious practices. So it’s important to know the difference between purpose-driven PR vs greenwashing.
But there’s still a critical gap between legitimately incorporating sustainable and social initiatives and how you communicate this to consumers. Cue purpose driven PR, your brand communication strategy that allows you to leverage the brand recognition and awareness that specific eco-friendly values hold for your company. But brands beware – despite best intentions, without careful execution and communication, your attempts may be misinterpreted as ‘greenwashing.’ Here’s what you need to know about the latter and how to avoid it at all costs.
What is Purpose Driven PR?
Purpose-driven PR encompasses the earned media coverage around a brand relevant to its corporate social responsibility. This content can include anything from the industry’s involvement in climate change and sustainability initiatives to any eco-friendly switches the company makes (like in packaging, shipping, or manufacturing). Investing in successful purpose driven PR strategies, however, goes far beyond improving consumer loyalty to their brands.
In fact, according to a recent poll of 1,048 Americans, 55% stated that they would spend extra on sustainable and eco-friendly products. On the contrary, 4 in 10 said they are likely to boycott companies that aren’t as committed to turning green – a definitive motivation from a sales perspective. Even more so from a brand awareness standpoint, as proven in a new global analysis commissioned by WWF, indicating a 71 percent increase in internet searches for sustainable goods internationally over the last five years.
Some refer to it as ‘the eco-wakening,’ but be forewarned, despite the advantages of purpose-driven PR from a business perspective – consumers are as quick as ever to spot a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a.k.a’ greenwashing.’
When it becomes ‘greenwashing’
Greenwashing is the antithesis of purpose-driven PR and refers to brands leveraging the economic value of purpose-driven initiatives and related PR without necessarily genuinely living up to the standards. However, it’s important to remember that this may not always be intentional. Often, consumer brands are labeled as ‘greenwashing’ due to a lack of knowledge on how to approach purpose-driven PR successfully. One example of this may be consumer brands who use vague language concerning their eco-friendly product, such as ‘all-natural’ or ‘made with clean products’ or ‘recycled materials’ instead of descriptive, informative, and transparent language. They avoid transparency around their supply chain and focus on a tiny sustainable change to distract from other harmful practices while overlooking the company’s broader environmental impact.
How brands can avoid greenwashing
Recent studies on U.S. consumers revealed an ever-increasing trust gap between consumers and brands, especially pertaining to sustainability. In fact, merely 38 percent of surveyed consumers believe brands and their promises concerning environmental sustainability. There is a dire need for credible, authoritative, third-party publicity to bridge the trust gap and establish your brand as a true north regarding its green messaging. This is where appropriate PR strategies can play a significant role.
In the interim, there are a few things consumer brands can keep in mind to avoid greenwashing, such as utilizing deliberate, clear, and accurate language and avoiding generic assertions such as “organic” unless the product is certified organic.
But there’s a catch.
Conversely, consumers are attracted to simple, jargon-free sustainability messages that connect directly to them, their families, and the world around them.
By keeping this in mind, consumers must find a natural and healthy balance between communicating authentically and accurately without becoming so far removed from their ideal consumer’s frame of reference.
Our opinion? If you can’t prove it, don’t use it. But you have to be a part of the conversation, or it’s only a matter of time before your competitors surpass you.