Skill Hacks

How to avoid the traps of greenwashing?

We hear a lot about greenwashing. And for good reason: searches related to greenwashing have increased by 180% over the last two years! For some people, it is a mastered concept but for others it remains very vague and is not always obvious to detect.

Fortunately, Join Indigo school can train you in responsible communication in only 15 hours. This will save you from being posted on the public square and paying a heavy fine...!

So how to avoid the traps of greenwashing and adopt a more responsible communication?

In this article, Marine Faibis, Head of Indigo, school of responsability, presents the different forms it takes, the risks for the company and the virtuous practices to adopt.


What is greenwashing?

Before getting to the heart of the matter, let's define it. Greenwashing is not only lying about a product, it is more deceptive than that. Greenwashing is the misleading use of arguments claiming good ecological practices in marketing or communication operations. It appeared in the 90's and comes from the association of the English words green and whitewashing or brainwashing. How to recognize it? 


It takes different forms:

Detour of attention

To make people forget their faults and bad actions by highlighting minor environmental actions.

Ex: HSBC communicates the amounts paid for the ecological transition without specifying that the financing of fossil fuels is largely superior.

Manipulating the numbers

Some companies communicate their carbon trajectory objectives without specifying which scopes are concerned. The figures are not contextualized.

Example: Netflix has announced a 0 CO2 emission level by the end of 2022. What it doesn't say? The emissions do not take into account CO2 emissions from users and data centers (scope 3).

Omissions of information

Some industries are not obliged to communicate all the ingredients of their products.

Example: A Guerlain product presented with 96% of ingredients of natural origin but which does not take into account the treatment of the plant. Here Guerlain does not specify that the remaining 4% are not of natural origin and have a health risk.

Vague vocabulary and lax criteria

Some brands put forward "responsible" product categories on their website without any proof or label (or labels created by them).

Example: ASOS which creates a responsible category, with the argument that the clothes are made of responsible materials. The French Competition Authority investigated this category and removed it.

Carbon credits

Any project owner who wishes to reduce or sequester greenhouse gas emissions can receive "carbon credits". Offsetting is one of the ways to obtain these carbon credits. Many companies easily clear their name with credits. However, before offsetting, it is necessary to drastically reduce its CO2 emissions with a solid climate strategy!

Example: AirFrance proposes to pay more to plant trees. By paying 4% more on the plane ticket, we let you think that we are eliminating your carbon footprint and that you are doing a good deed when it is very minimal.


The use of green symbol

This is THE most common trap! You must be careful not to abuse certain symbols or colors that can be misleading: the abuse of green color, symbols of nature (animals, vegetation, oceans, natural phenomena ...) or the use of specific lexical fields (ethical, healthy, sustainable, respectful, green, clean ...).


What are the risks of greenwashing?

 Voluntarily or not, we have all done greenwashing.

But why is it something to be taken seriously?

✅ First of all, greenwashing overshadows healthy, honest and goodwill initiatives, and even blurs the lines... Frustrating for those who act virtuously!

👩‍⚖️ Also, because the law may slap you on the wrist: the practice of advertising greenwashing is now punished under the Climate Law (Between 300k and 80% of the expenses incurred to achieve the misleading practice)

✋ Finally, if it is not the law, it is the consumers who will turn their backs on you: greenwashing creates general confusion and strong distrust among consumers. 67% of French people believe that greenwashing is far too widespread (YouGov study)


How to communicate responsibly?

Now that the context is set. What solutions are available to you?

Rethink communication on stronger pillars 🏛

Give consumers the material to form their own opinions and position yourself as a trusted partner.

Case in point: The company Hello Carbo sells carbon footprint measurement and reduction solutions. They have also created the Carbo Academy which provides a maximum of resources to master CSR topics. This is a very good SEO strategy and a good idea to create trust and educate

Opt for evidence-based marketing

Good communication is based on concrete evidence.

Example: Openclassrooms publishes an annual voluntary impact report every year and shares it with the general public. They announce everything, even the numbers that don't necessarily make them look good.


Accept imperfection and identify the road ahead 🛤

Be honest with your consumers and assume that you are not perfect and are aware of the road ahead.

Example: the Loom brand has decided to open a physical store. Since this is not an eco-friendly move, they took the time to explain their thinking, doubts and explained this decision.


Giving more space to co-construction 🛠

Today, it is easy to get in touch with your consumers. So don't hesitate to ask them about their needs and desires in order to co-construct with them!

This will avoid you to create useless products.

Example: The cosmetics brand Nidéco makes surveys on their website to know which product interests the community.


Engage through brand activism ✊

This is the ultimate step! As a brand, you can become a spokesperson for a cause to change an industry.

Case in point: Cyril Neves, creator of Petits Bidons, hired a lobbying consultant to meet with European elected officials. The goal is to push competitors to display all their ingredients on their products because it is not yet mandatory.


Training again and again

Like any other sector, communication is evolving and for the better! In order to accompany you in the evolution of your profession, Join Indigo school offers a 15 hour training to integrate responsibility in your marketing or communication.

Accompanied by professionals from Decathlon, Bonduelle or independent consultants, you will leave with concrete tools and a real added value!

Finally, what we must remember is that we are all novices concerning the ecological transition so let's be humble and open to learning!


Cet article est extrait du webinaire animé par l’école Join Indigo et Noémie Kempf. A la fois auteure, chroniqueuse, podcasteuse, elle est aussi consultante indépendante spécialisée sur les sujets de Brand Content et de stratégie de marque. A travers son podcast the Storyline et sa newsletter, Noémie montre l’influence des évolutions sociologiques, technologiques, économiques et politiques sur les stratégies et le storytelling.

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