“The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived” warns the U.N. chief as earthquakes, fires and floods tear across Europe.
“At some point we basically run out of superlatives to convey how urgent it is to act. And then the main issue is maybe not so much wording, but just a realisation that we are in the current climate crisis.” says Sonia I. Seneviratne, ETH Zurich.
Marketers have the ability to help get the word out and drive change but fears of greenwashing, as well as businesses choosing profit over the planet, are causing “greenhushing” where climate goals are not addressed or spoken about, even if they are well-intentioned.
Climate knowledge and fear
ESG policies are becoming a necessity within company plans, with more businesses including environmental strategies in their KPIs; 40% of brands now have a sustainability story that they are happy to talk about, up from just 25% in 202. However, the green knowledge and skills needed to communicate a brand’s plans have not increased with their goals: over a third (35%) of marketers have reported a gap in knowledge and skills when it comes to sustainability, compared to 20% in 2021 according to WFA’s Sustainable Marketing 2030 research.
Greenwashing is making unsubstantiated or misleading claims about sustainable practices and carries heavy penalties, not to mention brand damage. Global corporations, including Ryanair and BMW have recently been accused of greenwashing through misleading advertising. Whilst stringent regulations are important to stop brands from paying lip service to the environmental crisis, research has shown that it has had a negative impact on how marketing professionals feel about working on green campaigns; 49% say they are fearful or wary of backlash if they get it wrong, according to The Chartered Institute of Marketing’s research. This is leading to “greenhushing” as companies aren’t talking about the credentials and sustainability goals.
“There is a legal reluctance to be bold and strong in marketing statements because greenwashing is such a big risk. From a marketing perspective, you need to sometimes simplify to make your points and be single-minded. That is almost always running into legal issues because in sustainability messaging you have to be very specific. We’re still figuring out the balance.” Says Mak van Iterson, Global Director of Design and Sustainability for Heineken International.
What you can do
Despite fears, 90% of marketers agree that sustainability agendas must be more ambitious and 82% said we need to act more bravely and experiment to drive transformative change, according to WFA research.
Companies should be transparent about where they are at in their sustainability journey and what their goals are. Oatly is an example of a brand that openly tells consumers what they know about their products’ sustainability life cycle, what they are aiming for and gives reasons why they can’t measure the rest.
Oatly’s Chief Creative Officer, John Schoolscraft, spoke about their sustainability claims: “It can be cool, provoke thought and foster debate that has the potential to contribute to a more sustainable future. If it’s just there literally to sell a product, the only one who’s going to gain from that is a shareholder. So, there’s monetary value in that but little other value”.
Consumers are okay with imperfect as long as it’s authentic and honest. WFA research found that 89% of people think that it’s okay to say you’re not doing it all yet, but there’s credit in acknowledging your journey and striving for better and being transparent.
How to communicate your plans
Communication is key and the heart of a successful campaign and preconceptions of climate change mean words need to be considered carefully when discussing it. Sustainability should be considered throughout marketing campaigns from writing briefs to measuring performance.
Kaitlyn Barclay, CEO and co-founder at Scout Lab, says “Me before we” is helpful to consider when discussing climate change, it can become personal and relatable, “focus on the needs of an individual before the feel-good planetary message”. She warns against “fear mongering or fear-based marketing” saying “[it] is not helpful. It actually generates lethargy, or a lack of action. And so it’s not to say don’t cite the problem or don’t use factually accurate language, but always provide solutions.”
Understand your audience – Consider your audience, what their view of climate change may be and how it will impact them. Use facts, humour, make it relatable and personal, whatever approach provokes emotion in your audience to drive change.
Be authentic – In a modern world of media consumption, consumers are savvy and have high expectations, especially when it comes to the climate. Be real and be realistic with what you are trying to achieve and where you are in the sustainability journey, prioritise transparency.
Stay informed – fill the green knowledge gap, whether through training courses or collaborating with experts and stay up to date to make sure you’re on the right path. Set goals and monitor the outcomes.
Provide solutions – Lead with solutions not just doom and gloom headlines. Some solutions are even just creating that discussion and getting your audience, or even co-workers, talking.
Consumers are demanding more of companies and fighting for change. 59% of 18-34 year olds say they are more likely to buy a product that advertises and substantiates how sustainable it is and 47% have stopped buying products that negatively impact the environment. It’s no longer an option to not talk about sustainability and to not be part of the change.
We all have a role to play; marketers are perfectly positioned to educate, support and drive change, but a transformation of organisations’ mindset must happen for the global shift needed. CIM research has found 60% of businesses say it’s a challenge for their company to achieve sustainability commitments without compromising commercial needs. Jane Wakely, Pepsico says “I do think as an industry, we’ve got to really rethink how we measure success; how we measure our contribution; how we measure our legacy”.
Read our next blog on: Why b2b start-ups & scaleups need a PR strategy (bclear.co.uk)