Taking action, not just talking action: How to avoid ‘greenwashing’ as a brand

Taking action, not just talking action: How to avoid ‘greenwashing’ as a brand

We as a society have a responsibility to protect our planet, our people and pursue our potential for positive social action.

Brands have a responsibility to their customers, colleagues and shareholders. I don’t think these two things are, or should be, mutually exclusive.

Brands, as modern-day icons and power-house influences, also have a responsibility to use their power for good, as well as for gain.

There are no shortage of brands apparently stepping up to plate!

But it often seems like quite a single-sided exchange – where the brand may be the instigator, but the customer is really the one taking action. Whilst still absolutely a positive step in the right direction – it feels as though some brands are missing a trick when it comes to maximising their impact.

You’ll likely have seen the small signs in hotel bathrooms encouraging guests to consider reusing their towels to save on the environmental impact of laundering and preparing fresh ones. A great way to draw attention to a significant global problem and encourage a simple sacrifice to help address it, with genuine impact. But it feels to me that they they could be supporting and encouraging their customer’s good action by joining them in contributing, showing a genuine and authentic intent. It all comes down to a meaningful value exchange.

Any brand/customer exchange at its most basic level is a value exchange. I get something I want in return for something you want.

Now the reality for many, if not most brands is that serving a social or environmental purpose, must be balanced with the cost of commercial gain. But the hotels themselves will be making a saving from this: A saving they could be taking responsibility to reinvest in relevant good causes. It feels like a missed opportunity to maximise the value the customer and the brand could achieve together. Similarly, an often-missed opportunity to educate the consumer on the wider issues and solutions.

The best social action will be the same – uniting a shared responsibility for good, where both the brand and the customer benefit – but ultimately the cause benefits more.

It cannot solely be the responsibility of the consumer. When brands forge a partnership with their customers and lead by example, they can make a stronger impact.

When I was grabbing breakfast on my way to work, I saw a great example of this mutual exchange of value for good. Pod have recently launched an initiative which not only incentivises small and regular behavioural change by prompting customers to question if they need plastic cutlery – an initiative many brands are getting on-board with as the damaging effects of single-use plastic become widely understood. But Pod goes one step further to declare they will match the saving made by them from this initiative with a charitable donation if no cutlery is taken.

This is a simple, but powerful initiative, where talking action, becomes taking action. A true showcase of brands and buyers working in partnership for good. And Pod will inevitably benefit from increased positive brand sentiment.

There is certainly no obligation for brands to sacrifice profits to do good. But to truly maximise purposeful and authentic impact, brands need to take equal responsibility with their customers to effect it. To not be accused of ‘purpose bandwagon-ing’ or ‘greenwashing’ brands have to do their part along with the consumer, joining forces to maximise positive social action.

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