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How to Market a Sustainable Business, Without Greenwashing

It’s become increasingly clear to forward-thinking businesses that sustainable choices are not just good for the planet, they’re good for business too. Deloitte found that 28% of consumers have stopped buying certain products due to ethical or environmental concerns. This trend is only expected to increase as time goes on, with 45% of Gen Z consumers stopping purchasing certain brands because of ethical or sustainability concerns.

Clearly then, making sure your customers and potential customers know you’re sustainable is a must. But how do you toe the line between sustainable advertising and falling into the trap of greenwashing?

Goals Chart

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a term coined in recent years to refer to companies that claim to be sustainable or eco-conscious in their marketing or advertising materials, when the truth is actually something quite different. 

It can include anything from choosing green packaging to present a food or hygiene product as sustainable without any concrete claims, to misrepresenting data to paint a better picture of a company. However it happens, it often gets uncovered and can damage a brand’s relationship with consumers, breaking trust and loyalty.


How can you avoid it?

Making sure that your business avoids greenwashing is absolutely vital. Sustainable claims need to be based on facts for your customers to trust you. No savvy, switched-on shopper is going to stay with a brand that they realise is lying to them, even if that lie or misdirection might not be intentional.

Here are some tips to make sure that your advertising stays on the right side of greenwashing.

Set key goals

One way to ensure accuracy in your claims is to set your company key goals. For example, if you want to market your brand as a carbon-neutral company, set some actionable steps to achieve that. Aim to cut your carbon emissions in half within a specific period of time and arrange a system to offset the rest. 

Check in on your goals regularly and provide updates to your audience. Transparency is key. Once people can see the ongoing work your company is doing day-to-day, they will be far more likely to believe your eco-conscious claims.


Listen to your community

With that in mind, be prepared to listen to your audience and your customers. If they raise an issue that is grounded in truth, accept the criticism and use it as a learning opportunity. Sometimes, your biggest asset will be the smart consumers you have waiting for your brand to do better.

They might well provide you with some gems of environmentally-friendly knowledge that you can then act on. After all, it’s all about improving your company and doing better for the planet, rather than being right or looking infallible.


Assess your advertising

If you’ve already got marketing campaigns or advertising materials with sustainable claims on them, go back and assess them. Are all of our claims truly accurate? Are you using any language that could be misleading?

One example is that many companies claim to use recyclable materials, without looking at what that actually means for the consumer. Some recycling products need to go to special plants to be recycled, which the average person is not going to do. For most people, they won’t see that as recyclable because it’s simply not realistic. The clearer you can be, the more likely you are to match people’s expectations and not be accused of greenwashing.

Put your money where your mouth is

Ultimately, you need to make sure that your actions match your words. Be sure not to make lofty promises that you don’t have any chance of fulfilling.

It’s better to be honest about what you’re trying to do, track your progress, and achieve things gradually than promise the world and not deliver. Consumers know that sustainable changes can be difficult, so don’t feel like you need to do everything all at once, especially if you’re a startup or a small business. Start small, build it up, and you’ll be able to create a business that matches your environmental values.


Get inspired by some truly sustainable businesses in action by coming along to the Zero Waste Berlin Festival. We have consumers, individuals, and entrepreneurs from a range of different industries who are all approaching sustainability in a unique and authentic way. 

Tickets are currently available to buy here, so make sure you secure your space alongside like-minded professionals, entrepreneurs, and activists on September 17-19. We’re looking forward to seeing you there!


  • Rachael Davies

    Rachael Davies is a freelance writer and journalist based in Edinburgh, with work in National Geographic, Huffington Post, and TechRadar. You can find her on Twitter @rachdaviesetc or via her website.