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Do Your Sustainability Efforts Shout 'Greenwashing'?

A new report shows why you need clearer terms when explaining your sustainable initiatives.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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The sustainability initiative that your customers will love the most might just be the one that they understand best.

A new U.K. survey found a clear language barrier between businesses and consumers when it comes to sustainability. The survey polled 1,000 U.K. adults from Trajectory, a U.K.-based research firm, and Fleet Street, a communications company. Among its findings: only 4 percent of surveyed respondents said that they "completely understand" the phrase "circularity/circular economy" and only 11 percent said that they completely understand "carbon offsetting." With such a big knowledge gap, your customers might mistake your initiative for greenwashing.

Consumers surveyed feel the most positive about such words and phrases as:

  • recycling,

  • single-use plastic, and
  • locally sourced/grown.

These terms are also the most widely understood, according to the report. The incentive for business owners is clear: Consumers want sustainable brands and products and are willing to pay for them, but they're less trustful of initiatives they don't understand. The report also found that roughly 90 percent of consumers surveyed think it's important that brands talk about their sustainability initiatives, and 68 percent say they are more likely to buy from a company with a clear environmental strategy.

Here's how the report suggests you close the communication gap with customers:

1. Be specific on what consumers need to do. 

Instead of "we're a circular economy," tell customers they can bring in older versions of your product that you will then use to build newer versions. 

2. Be clear about why and how.

Instead of "carbon offsets," tell consumers exactly what your business is doing. For example, are you buying carbon credits? From who? How do they track emissions? Are you sequestering carbon in the ocean? Are you planting trees? Whatever it is, just say it, and make sure you explain why you're offsetting your emissions instead of reducing them. 

3. Use familiar places and terms. 

Instead of "biodegradable," tell your customers that they can put the packaging right into their food waste bin or compost. Tell them exactly how long it takes for the biodegradable product to break down, and again, why it matters. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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