Corporate Greenwashing is Just About Washed Up

It’s been five years since the FTC cracked down on environmental marketing, warning companies that their “go green / go paperless” campaigns were misleading and unsubstantiated. The claims that digital is greener than paper don’t hold water, and consumers were skeptical too. Leading U.S. companies began removing their anti-paper green claims, and the trend continues thanks in large part of the efforts of Two Sides NA.

“To date, Two Sides has successfully engaged with 441 companies worldwide to remove or change such claims about print and paper,” notes this article from the organization.  “Sectors showing the highest occurrence of greenwashing include telecom providers, banks and financial institutions, utility providers and governmental organizations.”

Verizon made the pledge to drop the greenwashing about three years ago, but there’s much more work to be done.

“We are really pleased that our ongoing effort is having such a significant effect on some of the world’s largest and most influential companies and organizations,” says Martyn Eustace of Two Sides Europe/UK. “However, our latest research shows that misleading environmental messages are having an impact on consumer perceptions of print and paper – particularly regarding the impact on forests.  This is why it is so vital for Two Sides to continue working with organizations to remove greenwashing claims and educate them about the unique sustainable aspects of print and paper.  Paper comes from a renewable resource and is one of the most recycled materials in the world. When responsibly produced and used, it can be a sustainable way to communicate.”

Ultimately, companies need to be educated on much more than the science behind the claims. They need to understand that their customers want a choice they can feel good about it. And in many cases, that choice is print.

“It is great to see that print as a communications medium is still preferred by many consumers,” said Phil Riebel, President of Two Sides North America.  “Clearly, people also recognize the sustainable features of paper when compared to many other products, especially electronics and plastic.  However, there is a need to educate consumers on sustainable forestry practices, the real causes of deforestation and the great recycling story of print and paper.”

A good 85% of U.S. and 80% of Canadian consumers “believe they should have the right to revert to paper-based communications even after switching to digital,” the article notes.

At the same time, Two Sides research finds that 71% of Americans believe it’s important to swtich off their devices and read more in print, and almost half say they spend “too much time” on their electronic devices.

Once brands understand what their customers truly think – that they want a choice, and they prefer print in many instances – the greenwashing falls flat.

I’m always harping on the audience-first approach in publishing; it goes the same in any industry.

Greenwashing is out; consumer choice – based on fact and personal preference – is in.