B Corp Breakfast: Greenwashing, the grey areas
A breakfast event for senior leaders from B Corp businesses on the topic: Greenwashing, the grey areas.
As part of B Corp month, we hosted a breakfast discussion for senior leaders from B Corp businesses on the topic
Greenwashing, the grey areas.
Our subject specific events aim to create a space where individuals can come together to discuss timely topics and share insight, experiences, and learnings across industries, supporting each other to succeed.
Our Greenwashing event didn’t disappoint.
Why this topic?
There is a notable rise in brands being called out for their marketing claims not living up to their actions, driven by more conscious consumers and a greater awareness of the power of brands and businesses to influence behaviours and create change. We’re seeing this happen both on a legal level with brands facing fines and removal of adverts by the ASA, as well as customers vocalising double standards on social platforms and taking spending power elsewhere.
What came up?
Evidence suggests that purpose-driven brands, or those which claim better sustainability or ethical practices, are scrutinised more than those who don’t make any claims towards this. As all attendees around our table were B Corps, there is a vulnerability felt by everyone in the community to this spotlight.
Being a B Corp is about publicly going on a journey to run your business better, in order to have an increasingly positive impact on people and the planet, while striving to make profit to allow this to happen. (Every three years when assessed, your scores must improve not just remain the same). No one is claiming to be perfect, there will always be more we can do.
Below are just a few of the areas touched upon at our recent event.
Demand for digital product passports
Digital product passports are a digital trail customers can follow to track a product’s impact through its lifecycle - from manufacturing to shipping and end-of-life - this might include details on carbon footprint, labour working conditions, provenance, supply chain and more. Gartner researchers suggest by 2027 that 50% of the top 10 consumer goods manufacturers will have them for at least one of their product categories (Forbes), and the EU strategy for sustainable and circular textiles is looking to mandate them for brands making sustainability claims.
It seems a little as though the writing is on the wall, and some of the marketeers present had already begun utilising these on certain product lines. However, the ultimate goal here is transparency and there are brands embarking on this journey in other ways. We recently helped one of our B Corp partners Vivobarefoot to launch their Value Chain Map which gives visibility on partners in their supply chain and details on them.
As touched on above, this is a journey and while it doesn’t yet contain complete details for all, having this live drives the process of information sourcing and sharing to continue - meeting the transparency demand of today’s consumer.
How well do you know your target audience’s sustainability literacy levels?
The guidance on misleading claims and social responsibility in advertising, released by the ASA, is intended to help marketeers and their agency partners to interpret the official codes of conduct, and ultimately avoid greenwashing, whether intentional or unintentional. It’s a read which highlights the subtle nuances and delicate balance we’re all trying to get right in our efforts to promote progress, without claiming more than is reality.
The point that marketers should consider how knowledgeable the audience is likely to be and not make assumptions on levels of understanding, especially for non targeted campaigns, was of particular interest.
When doing customer research, whether for persona building or specific campaign creation, how often are you including questions to probe their knowledge and understanding of socio-environmental practices and terminology to inform the creative and execution? This knowledge really is power in knowing whether your claims need further qualification in order to be correctly interpreted by the intended audience of your marketing.
Skipping vital customer research steps is no longer only unwise for impacting optimal marketing performance, it also risks communicating in a way that exposes your brand to greenwashing accusations.
The importance of an internal culture of ongoing comms
In the room we had a mix of CEO/ Founders, Marketing Directors, Finance and Procurement leads. What resonated was the need for a multi-way open dialogue to happen more regularly to ensure values are upheld across all aspects of the business. When it comes to greenwashing claims the most public head on the block is that of the marketer responsible for the messages put out on the brands behalf.
So it’s only fair and right that you have the chance to question your teams on how you’re delivering on your claims, and making sure we all take the time to do so is more important than ever. These connection moments become increasingly vital as a company grows to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, and practising what is preached.
It should not be seen only to shape the messaging, but also to be that continual loop of how can we do better? Holding each other to account on looking for ways to improve practices, whatever the product or service we deliver may be.
How far does our responsibility go with clients and suppliers?
This was a particularly grey area discussed on the day. How far can and should we go to influence other businesses' behaviour based on our relationship to them? A brilliant example given was from a brand that provides a platform for businesses to connect with communities in order to help fund initiatives and expand their positive impact.
As a B Corp their values will of course mean they won’t entertain certain industries with different moral compasses being on the platform. But for others less clear cut, should they be the broker between deciding whether a cause should or shouldn’t take money from a business, when the funding will go a long way in creating positive change? A complex challenge, but we discussed ideas around using the businesses desire to be on the platform and do good as a conversation starter for striving to influence change elsewhere in their practices which may be less desirable. And oftentimes this may be as far as you can go.
But for us to be able to create real positive change we have to engage those not yet thinking about or engaging with the idea of more sustainable and ethical practices. If we choose to stick only with those ticking boxes at the moment to avoid risk of condemnation, then we inhibit the very movement we’ve all signed up to be a part of and believe in as B Corps.
A big thanks to all the B Corp businesses that participated in our breakfast event: Candy Kittens, Nudea, Pawprint B Corp UK, EQ Investors, Fourfront Group, Tiger Global, Aspiga, ActionFunder, Project Merchandise, Bohill Partners, AJT, Bates Wells, and Runway East.
We have lots more events coming up and in the planning for the year. If you’re interested in joining our mailing list please register your interest here and we can keep you in the loop.
If you have thoughts about a particular topic you’d love to table a discussion on, we’re all ears, so get in touch.