By David Betke
Greenwashing is a marketing tactic companies use to make their products or services appear more environmentally friendly than they are. This includes using deceptive language, misleading claims, exaggerating environmental benefits, or irrelevant certifications that misrepresent a company's environmental impact or sustainability practices. Greenwashing aims to capitalize on consumer interest in environmentally conscious products without investing in sustainable practices or reducing their environmental impact.
We are all trying to do our part to reduce our emissions and the negative impacts of our business activities on our planet. However, the strategies and materials we use to market our brands can be forgotten in this equation. Promotional product purchasing decisions can affect our bottom line and our brand's reputation when we fail to research our supply chains.
A promotional product is often the first impression someone has of your brand. It can lead to a favourable opinion or even result in the repositioning of your brand if you have been misled by the company you buy your promotional products from.
The promotional products industry works by providing businesses with customized items that are used to promote their brand or message. This can include logoed items such as pens, keychains, and apparel, as well as more unique items such as technology products, outdoor products, and drinkware. The industry operates through a network of distributors and manufacturers. Manufacturers produce products sold through distributors to end-users, such as marketing departments, event planners, and business owners. The process typically starts with the end-user working with a distributor to select the right item and customize it with their logo or message. The distributor then works with the manufacturer to produce the item and fulfill the order. The promotional products industry is a multi-billion dollar industry that serves a wide range of clients, from small businesses to large corporations and covers a wide range of industries and sectors.
Promotional products may be the first contact anyone has with your brand. It may be as a golf tournament prize, silent auction, or given away at a trade show. Impressions of your brand, positive or negative, are often formed by this first impression. You don't want their first impression to be that you are a greenwasher.
If a supplier makes unsubstantiated environmental claims about the sustainability of their products and you use those products to promote your brand, you could be accused of greenwashing yourself.
Through no fault of your own, that product could scream, "False and misleading claims." This is a real risk to your brand's reputation. Consumers may hold you accountable, and you could even lead to an investigation by the Competition Bureau.
Natural or made from natural fibres are often used to suggest a product is environmentally friendly or non-toxic. However, it can be misleading, as many harmful substances are technically "natural," and many natural fibres are grown using harmful chemicals.
"Eco-friendly" implies a product benefits the environment, but it is often used without any specific claims or certifications to back it up. Many greenwashers create graphics and tags that imply a product is eco-friendly. Their sustainability claims may not be independently verified.
Recyclable suggests that a product can be recycled, but it doesn't necessarily mean it will be recycled or environmentally friendly.
Biodegradability implies that a product will break down naturally over time. However, the reality is more complex, as products may require specific conditions to biodegrade, and even then, they may release harmful chemicals into the environment.
The term "reusable" is sometimes considered greenwashing because it suggests that a product is environmentally friendly simply because it can be used multiple times. However, the production and disposal of reusable products can still have a significant environmental impact, especially if they are made from non-biodegradable materials or require a lot of energy to produce. Additionally, the term "reusable" may distract from other negative environmental impacts of a product or company. Therefore, it is essential to consider the entire lifecycle of a product before accepting its claim of being "reusable."
Sustainable suggests a product is produced in a way that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. However, assessing whether a product is sustainable can be difficult without considering its entire lifecycle and supply chain. Sustainable products should be ranked on a sustainability scale according to the product's life cycle and scope three emissions.
Green claims are everywhere these days. "Green" often suggests that a product is environmentally friendly or non-toxic. However, it is an unregulated term and can be used misleadingly.
Here are a few examples to look out for.
• Making false or misleading claims that products are made of eco-friendly materials, but the materials are only partially recycled, or only a tiny portion of the product is eco-friendly.
• Offering "biodegradable" products that require specific conditions to break down and will not do so in a landfill.
• Highlighting environmental attributes or benefits while ignoring other environmental concerns such as production emissions, transportation emissions, and waste reduction during production.
• Advertising products as being made in an eco-friendly manner but using factories with poor working conditions or unethical labour practices.
• Vague claims such as "sustainable" or "earth-friendly" without providing evidence or certification to back up those claims.
• Offering "green" unnecessary or excessive products, encouraging waste rather than promoting sustainability.
To avoid falling for greenwashing when buying promotional products, consider the following tips:
Question the validity of marketing claims like "eco-friendly," "sustainable," "green," and "natural" without proper verification. Look for evidence and verifiable claims. Green products and services are not always sustainable.
The promotional products industry has a low barrier to entry, and many are in it for profit alone.
To make sure you are choosing a partner who puts your brand's best interests ahead of their own, do some research and ask some questions,
How credible are your promotional products distributor's claims of green branding? Are they just recently jumping on the bandwagon? Quiz them on their sustainability knowledge. Get them to do the hard work in checking if a supplier/manufacturer backs up their claims with third-party certifications or evidence of their sustainable practices.
Materials management, by nature, tries to reduce costs. Reducing costs at the expense of your reputation is not worth it. Ensure that sustainability is a core item in all purchasing decisions and that vendors can supply independent verification.
Companies with transparent supply chains and environmental policies are more likely to avoid greenwashing. Can your partner provide evidence of the sustainability of their supply chains? Can they provide certifications based on adequate and proper testing?
Select durable products that can be used repeatedly to show your commitment to sustainability, preferably made from sustainable materials.
Many trade show exhibitors rely on attracting as many individuals as possible to a booth, often through flashy giveaways, hoping that some will engage in meaningful conversations or follow up after the event. This approach is ineffective and results in a significant waste of resources.
Creating a plan including who is receiving the products, why they are receiving them, what they have to do to receive them, and measuring how many people do it is essential to reducing waste. Make sure the products you do use are as sustainable as possible.
In conclusion, greenwashing is when a company makes false and misleading statements or unsubstantiated claims about their products or services' positive environmental impacts to gain consumers' favour. You may also be a victim of misleading advertising by your suppliers. When it applies to the products you use to market your brand, such as promotional products, the medium is the message, and greenwashed promotional products can damage your brand.