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  • Ishbel Macleod

Sustainability and social media: what you need to know

Sustainability. It’s become more and more important over the past few years, so it’s no wonder that brands are looking to showcase their sustainable efforts. But with the Green Claims Code meaning it’s important to clarify your efforts, and the public wary of greenwashing, it’s a minefield for marketers. Let’s break it down.

Sustainability in marketing

There’s almost three billion Google results for the phrase ‘how can businesses be more sustainable’…and for good reason. And as businesses become more sustainable in their practices, it makes sense that they want to show this off. In fact, in a survey by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), 63% of adults said that brands should increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services.

When it comes to promoting sustainability in your brands marketing, this can be anything from products being made from recyclable materials, to being net zero (so that no additional greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere with the creation of the product).

The problem comes when brands begin to make claims that are not true, or when they over exaggerate. This is exactly why the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched the Green Claims Code in 2021.

What is the Green Claims Code?

The Green Claims Code was designed to protect consumers from misleading environmental claims, and comes of the back of research that found 4 in 10 of firms’ green claims could be misleading.

It includes any claims that suggest or create the impression that a product or a service:

  • has a positive environmental impact or no impact on the environment

  • is less damaging to the environment than a previous version of the same good or service

  • is less damaging to the environment than competing goods or services

This can be anything that is explicitly mentioned in adverts or marketing, is included in branding or is on the packaging.

In order to comply with the Green Claims Code, you must make sure your adverts do the following:

  • Make sure claims are truthful and accurate (e.g. if you say ‘this shampoo is made with organic ingredients’, people would expect ALL ingredients are organic)

  • Make sure claims are clear and unambiguous (e.g. if something is recyclable but only at big facilities and not in home recycling, this should be made clear)

  • Only include fair and meaningful comparisons (e.g. if you are comparing one product against that of a competitor, make sure the products are similar and that the measurements are calculated in the same way)

  • Back up any claims with evidence (e.g. if you say it is the ‘most environmentally friendly’ brand then you need to be able to prove this)

What is greenwashing?

One of the reasons these rules have come into place is because of ‘greenwashing’ – when a company claims to be environmentally friendly, but they are either over-playing their efforts or not making any sustainable impact at all.

In fact, over the past year, research from Twitter found that there was a 253% increase in people tweeting about the term ‘greenwashing’.

By falling foul of the Green Claims Code, brands are greenwashing their products, which is unethical and can also anger customers.

The issue can be that sometimes this leads to marketers worried about if their campaigns are relevant - with half (49%) of marketers wary of working on sustainability marketing campaigns due to the fear of their company or clients being accused of ‘greenwashing’, according to CIM research.

So far, brands such as Innocent, Oatly and Ryanair have fallen foul of greenwashing claims, and have had ads banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The majority of ads that have been called out so far have mainly been told that they are too vague: from suggesting the product has a positive environmental impact but not saying how, through to not being specific enough around what products the ad is referring to.

What does this mean for sustainable marketing on social media?

In a nutshell, if you are looking to promote the sustainability of your product or service, make sure you are very clear about what is can and cannot do – and be able to back up any claims you make.

Sustainability is good – being called out for greenwashing isn’t!

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