Marketing teams must have the right skills to avoid “greenwashing” | Commentary and opinion

The practice of “greenwashing” recently made headlines when the French Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) unveiled its new “Green Claims Code”, designed to hold brands accountable for their sustainability claims. The announcement coincides with the results of new research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), which found that half of UK marketers are now reluctant to work on sustainability campaigns, such are the fear of accusations of greenwashing.

Unfortunately, this puts them at odds with consumers, who demand that companies be more active on sustainability – and with many business leaders, who agree that sustainability must be a business priority. In fact, 51% of companies surveyed went so far as to say that climate change could threaten the very existence of their business or their customers.

At the same time, our research also shows that increasingly sophisticated consumers are skeptical of brands’ sustainability efforts. The majority (63%) think that many only get involved in sustainability for business reasons rather than ethical ones.

It is for this reason that we welcome the new CMA regulations. To make real progress in the fight against climate change, we need to see companies be more open and transparent about their impact on the environment.

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Far from hesitating to release benchmarks when it comes to sustainability, marketers should view anti-greenwashing advice as a huge opportunity. If the law is successful in combating inaccurate sustainability claims, the market advantage will likely fall on brands that successfully strive to mitigate their social and environmental impact. And if you have the data to support that work, your marketers have everything they need to credibly tell your product story.

But companies also need to empower their marketing teams to improve their skills, giving them the tools and knowledge to confidently fuel effective strategies focused on sustainability. We have found that 40% of marketers admit that they don’t have any qualifications in sustainability related marketing, but are interested in a qualification, which reveals a critical skills gap that needs to be addressed.

The confidence to communicate sustainability claims will come more easily if brands approach everything they do with integrity. Without integrity, fears about accusations of greenwashing can be justified. Brand owners need a strong sustainability strategy, which means not seeing marketing as a separate entity. Marketers can’t describe what they can’t see, and providing accurate, substantiated claims depends on close collaboration.

Encouragingly, 71% of marketers we spoke to felt they already have a voice within their company or with their customers when it comes to sustainability, demonstrating the positive impact that they might have within companies when armed with the right skills.

I remind marketers that their job isn’t just to drive clicks or market a product. They are in a strong position to influence social change, mediating the relationship between brands and their customers. They can be a catalyst for positive change and have an important role to play in ensuring that brands have real sustainability claims high on the priority list.

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About Marilyn Perkins

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