NEWS17 March 2022

Brands urged not to ‘bamboozle’ consumers in eco-messaging

Impact 2022 News Sustainability UK

UK – Brands should not “bamboozle” and “lie” to consumers about their sustainability efforts or they face being accused of greenwashing, according to business and sustainability leaders.

Head shot of Caroline Bates

The leaders were taking part in a panel discussion at the MRS Impact 2022 conference entitled, Greenwashing: How to avoid greenwashing on your sustainability journey.

The panel was chaired by Caroline Bates, co-founder of Citizen Good and featured Marina Bradford, founder BEMARI; Andy Stephens, Head of Sustainable Food, COOK and Michelle Feeney, founder and CEO, Floral Street. Participants urged brands to focus on “inspiration, not desperation” in communicating eco-messages and warned consumers will “find out” brands that are greenwashing.

As consumer demand for more environmentally friendly products increases, brands are finding themselves being called out for making sweeping and spurious claims about their sustainability credentials. To avoid being accused of greenwashing, Feeney said brands should simply not lie and not “bamboozle the consumer”.

Climate change and the future of the planet is now a fixture at the top of the agenda of business and political leaders but Feeney said that people were still unable to grasp what changes they can make to help. “It’s this idea of communicating the problem. It’s perhaps being communicated, but many people feel really hopeless that they can’t get involved or can’t change.

“We know the forest is being chopped down. David Attenborough has shared that communication. But I think what it’s difficult to do is to parcel that down to a tiny piece so that people can understand and know how they can impact that.”

Stephens admitted there was no “silver bullet” to changing consumer behaviour so they become more green-conscious, but that business leaders, governments and stakeholders needed to come together to drive this change. The panel agreed that marketing and communication could play a pivotal role too, focusing on the messaging ,“inspiration, not desperation”.

Bradford said that brands should shift from solely selling products to creating more shared value. “I think there’s definitely a role for marketing to change and shift in terms of the purpose of the marketing”, she noted.

Those brands conveying spurious sustainability messages would be called out, said Feeney. “Modern consumers are really smart, they will dig it out, they will find you out. They will ask you the questions.”

Feeney also called for major corporations to be held to account on whether they achieved their sustainability pledges and said that firms were too beholden to their share price. “There needs to be some bigger challenges back to bigger companies,” she added.

Stephens, meanwhile, said that if companies were part way on their journey to achieving environmental goals then he saw no problem in communicating this to their customer base. “As long as you communicate it as mini progress, small steps in a wider journey, then I think that’s alright.”

But Feeney said that companies that publicly admit they still had work to do to improve their green credentials might suffer if they admitted they were not perfect.

“There is also a way of worrying that if you say that you are not perfect, then people might reject you totally and then you haven’t got business,” she remarked.