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How to Steer Clear of Greenwashing in Your Marketing Campaigns

On March 12, 2024, the European Parliament passed the Green Claims Directive to ensure companies back up their environmental claims with solid evidence. This directive is designed to make it easier for consumers to trust green marketing by requiring proof for terms like “biodegradable” or “less polluting.” It also focuses on verifying claims about carbon offsetting, with strict rules and penalties for companies that don’t comply. The new rules aim to reduce misleading environmental claims and improve transparency. [Source]

Imagine you are a sustainable brand trying to reach eco-conscious consumers in a competitive market full of claims about sustainability. You focus on being honest and real. You want to stand out by showing exactly how you protect the environment and make a positive impact. But how can you establish amongst consumers that your brand is genuine and trustworthy, unlike others who might just say they’re green without really doing much?

Many businesses try to show their environmental efforts to attract like-minded consumers. But sometimes, there’s a fine line between real sustainability and greenwashing (making false claims about helping the environment). Greenwashing not only confuses customers but can also hurt your brand when people find out. 

Here’s how to make sure your marketing is genuinely green and doesn’t involve greenwashing.

Understand Greenwashing

Greenwashing occurs when companies make misleading claims about their products or practices being environmentally friendly. These claims often lack evidence or are vague, making it hard for consumers to verify their validity. This can happen both unintentionally and intentionally. 

For example, promoting products as “natural” without specifying how they benefit the environment or claiming a product is eco-friendly while ignoring its negative impacts elsewhere in its lifecycle. 

Sometimes, companies highlight minor environmental benefits to distract from larger issues or position their products as the “lesser of two evils” compared to more harmful alternatives. 

Understanding these tactics empowers businesses to avoid greenwashing and adopt genuine environmental practices instead of relying on misleading marketing strategies.

Understand the ‘Green Terms’ Before You Use Them

Online marketing is all about words, ad copies, and content in video, photographic, or textual forms. 

It’s often asked how marketing for sustainable brands is different from usual marketing. We believe one of the ways it is different lies in the terms used for marketing these products.

When you’re running and claiming to run a sustainable brand, these terms become more important than they would in typical marketing campaigns.

Before using terms like “green,” “natural,” or “eco-friendly” in your marketing, it’s important to understand what they really mean. Misusing these terms can lead to consumer mistrust and accusations of greenwashing. Here are some examples of sustainability terms that can be accidentally used without checking for how real they are in business practices’:

  1. Green: Generally refers to products or practices that are environmentally friendly. However, it’s a broad term that should be used with specific details to avoid ambiguity. For example, instead of saying “Our product is green,” specify “Our product is manufactured using 100% renewable energy and packaged in 100% biodegradable materials.”
  2. Natural: This implies that a product is made from natural ingredients with minimal processing. However, the term is not strictly regulated and can be misleading without proper context.
  3. Eco-Friendly: Indicates that a product or practice is not harmful to the environment. Like “green,” it should be accompanied by specific information about how it benefits the environment.
  4. Sustainable: This refers to practices that meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. This often involves responsible resource management and long-term environmental impact reduction.
  5. Biodegradable: It means that a product can break down naturally over time without harming the environment. It’s important to specify how long the process takes and under what conditions.
  6. Recyclable: Indicates that a product or packaging can be collected, processed, and used again. Be clear about the facilities and processes required for recycling.
  7. Carbon Neutral: It refers to balancing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere with an equivalent amount offset, or buying enough carbon credits to make up the difference.
  8. Organic: In the context of agriculture and food, this means produced without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms. It’s regulated by standards like USDA Organic.

1. Mind Your Claims

Before you start promoting your green efforts, make sure they’re real. To maintain credibility and trust, it is crucial to support any claims about your industry, customers, or business practices with reliable data and concrete actions from your company. If a claim cannot be backed by evidence, it should be removed from your online marketing campaign copies.

2. Show Your Work: Say What You Mean 

Being transparent is key to avoiding greenwashing. Give clear, specific details about your sustainability efforts. For instance, rather than simply stating “eco-friendly packaging,” specify that your packaging is made entirely from biodegradable materials. Support your claims with data, certifications, and validations from independent organizations. This transparency helps customers trust that your environmental claims are genuine and backed by evidence.

3. Certify for Credibility 

Certifications from organizations like B Lab, Fair Trade, USDA Organic, Energy Star, and LEED provide proof that your products or practices meet environmental standards. Displaying these certifications in your marketing builds trust with customers, showing them your dedication to sustainability is backed by trusted experts. This transparency assures consumers that your environmental promises are true and supported by credible sources.

Here are a few more certifications related to environmental sustainability that you should know about:

B Corp: Recognizes companies meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Fair Trade: Ensures fair wages and safe working conditions for producers, promoting sustainable livelihoods and environmental stewardship.

USDA Organic: Verifies products are grown and processed according to strict guidelines that minimize environmental impact and avoid synthetic inputs.

Energy Star: Certifies energy-efficient products, buildings, and industrial facilities, helping consumers and businesses save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): Evaluates and certifies buildings for sustainable practices in design, construction, operation, and maintenance.

Cradle to Cradle Certified: Ensures products are designed with recyclability and sustainability in mind throughout their lifecycle.

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): Ensures wood and paper products come from responsibly managed forests that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

CarbonNeutral® Certification: Certifies that an organization has achieved net-zero carbon emissions by balancing carbon emissions with carbon removal or offsets.

WaterSense: Certifies water-efficient products and promotes water conservation in the United States.

EPEAT: Certifies electronic products based on their environmental performance, including energy efficiency and recyclability. 

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS): Certifies textiles made from organic fibers, ensuring environmental and social criteria are met throughout the supply chain.

Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI): Promotes responsible forest management and sustainable sourcing of forest products.

5. Listen and Respond 

Listen to what your customers have to say about your sustainability efforts. Encourage them to give feedback and be open to having conversations about how you can do better. When customers raise concerns or criticize, be transparent in how you respond and use their feedback to make improvements. This back-and-forth communication helps build trust and shows that you truly care about being sustainable. It’s about being open to learning from your customers and showing them that their opinions matter in how you work to protect the environment.

6. Stay Informed and Compliant 

Keep up with environmental marketing rules and standards—they can change. Stay informed about guidelines from agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S., which gives businesses Green Guides to follow so they don’t make false claims about being green. It’s important to follow these rules to keep your honesty and reputation strong.

These websites offer comprehensive information and resources on environmental regulations, guidelines, and standards that businesses can refer to ensure compliance and integrity in their environmental marketing practices.

7. Admit, Learn, and Improve 

Admitting mistakes, learning from them, and continually improving is the key to showing a genuine commitment to sustainability. Use your platform to teach consumers about sustainability and share details about your efforts.

Sustainability is an ongoing process. Regularly review and refine your environmental practices, set new goals, and share your progress with your audience to demonstrate your long-term commitment. By doing this, your brand not only becomes a leader in sustainability but also helps customers become more informed and engaged. 

8. Promote Broader Environmental Initiatives 

Promote sustainability beyond your immediate business practices. Engage in broader environmental initiatives and collaborations. Partner with environmental organizations, support community projects, and participate in industry-wide sustainability efforts. Offer resources and tips on how consumers can make eco-friendly choices in their daily lives. 

Some examples of these resources include articles, guides on waste reduction, infographics, carbon footprint calculators, webinars on sustainable living, partnerships with environmental groups, social media campaigns promoting eco-friendly practices, product certifications, and transparent sustainability reports. These resources empower consumers to make informed choices and engage in environmental stewardship.

By contributing to larger sustainability goals, you not only strengthen your brand’s commitment to the environment but also help drive systemic change. Highlight these efforts in your marketing to show your company’s role in supporting a more sustainable world.

Examples of Greenwashing to Learn From

There are examples of several high-profile brands that have been accused of greenwashing, Here are a few to offer a valuable lesson on what not to do:

1. H&M: The brand’s “Conscious Collection” came under scrutiny for using vague and misleading sustainability claims. Investigations revealed that the products marketed as part of this collection were often no more sustainable than their regular offerings. This led to the brand being asked to remove misleading labels and improve transparency in their sustainability communication. (Dezeen)​​ (ESG Today)​

2. Decathlon: Similar to H&M, Decathlon used sustainability labels like “Ecodesign” without providing sufficient information. They have since committed to removing these claims and ensuring better clarity in their future communications. (ESG Today)​.

3. Asos and Boohoo: Both brands were criticized by the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for using vague and potentially misleading green claims. The CMA’s ongoing investigation aims to ensure that these brands provide accurate and verifiable information about their sustainability efforts. (Home of Sustainability News)​


Avoiding greenwashing means more than just pretending to be eco-friendly. It requires a real commitment to sustainability, being honest about what you’re doing, and always trying to reduce your environmental impact. By actually doing things that make a difference and talking about them honestly, you can build a brand that people trust and are proud to associate with. 

Sustainability is so much more than just looking good, it is about genuinely caring for the planet and committing to it while connecting with others who feel the same way.

If you’re looking for an agency that prioritizes your goals about environmental responsibility, we’d love to talk to you. Contact us at to discover how we can support your brand’s sustainable needs with our expertise.

Formerly an English trainer, a dearth of creativity led me into the world of digital marketing. I now channel my linguistic prowess as a Content Strategist at CueForGood.

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