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Not as green as claimed? Greenwashing

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When climate neutral is not so neutral. 

The importance of sustainability is increasing. And so are the demands of consumers on companies. Sustainability can be a success factor for companies - you can find our contribution here. Unfortunately, there are also companies that position themselves as greener than they actually are. Welcome to greenwashing. 

Greenwashing is not only a minefield for companies from a legal point of view, it can also damage the relationship with customers in the long run. And greenwashing is now hitting consumers who are willing to spend more on truly sustainable products, on the one hand, and companies that are trying hard to become more sustainable, on the other. The behavior of a few companies can therefore also harm those that have really changed their process and communication in order to earn the trust of their customers tomorrow. Greenwashing is therefore not only a danger for companies that label themselves as greener than they are.

Greenwashing vs. Green Marketing

But there is not only greenwashing, because here too the coin has 2 sides. Greenwashing meets sustainability marketing or green marketing. And what the difference is, let's take a look now. 

The term "greenwashing" already hints at it a bit, because it revolves around companies "washing themselves clean" in terms of green issues like sustainability and ecology. Greenwashing acts as a description for companies or economically oriented businesses that want to give themselves a sustainable and environmentally friendly image. What is meant by this are, among other things, PR measures so that one is evaluated by consumers and customers as environmentally friendly and sustainable. These measures fall under the heading of "greenwashing" if they raise questions that are not answered and if there is a lack of consistent and comprehensible transparency. In short, greenwashing means that companies describe and present themselves as greener and more environmentally friendly and sustainable than they ultimately are. 

And what is sustainability marketing? The terms "sustainability marketing" and "green marketing" are becoming increasingly blurred, and to help distinguish between them, we looked them up in smart books. 

The Gabler business encyclopedia defines sustainability marketing as: "A specific orientation of the marketing approach to the normative guiding principle of sustainable development. Sustainability marketing is also understood as a further development of eco-marketing. Sustainability marketing presupposes the inclusion of ecological and social goals in the design of market transactions. It encompasses the planning, coordination, enforcement, and control of all market and non-market transaction activities to avoid or reduce environmental and social problems in order to achieve desired business objectives via the long-term satisfaction of the needs of current and potential customers, while exploiting competitive advantages and ensuring social legitimacy."

Ok, and in contrast to this, Green Marketing is described as follows"In the context of economic science, Green Marketing is understood as the totality of all advertising and information efforts that successfully emphasize the sustainability of the production chain. It is not just a matter of convincing customers of the sustainability of one's own products or services through targeted advertising measures. The term also encompasses all marketing measures that have a lasting impact on improving the environmental performance of a company and its production processes."

So you can see that there are similarities and parallels. Whether a distinction is necessary is a moot point - the fact is that anyone who is genuinely committed to the environment, cultivates transparency and is not only aware of their responsibility, but also calls it that - and then talks about it - is in the sustainability marketing business.

What can you pay attention to? 

Being committed to the environment and the future and being aware of and taking responsibility as a company is important for a number of reasons. First, for legal reasons, you should not promise anything in a campaign that you do not or cannot deliver. The Supreme Court in Germany has also ruled that references to environmental properties may only be used in advertising if they can be clearly substantiated. It should also be possible to rule out misleading statements. So anyone who dares to use terms such as "natural," "green," "climate-neutral" or "organic" should also be able to prove the aspects for these labels. 

On the other hand, it is also about the relationship with customers and wrongly awakened expectations can damage a relationship in the long run. Transparency towards customers is fundamentally important, but in the context of sustainability the weighting and evaluation by consumers is increasing more and more. Anyone who wants to show what responsibility a company is taking on should definitely be able to prove this and also communicate it transparently. Once trust has been destroyed, it is difficult to rebuild it. Therefore, it is also advisable to clearly describe where the current limits of action are. This does not mean that a company can change everything from one day to the next in order to be truly climate neutral. But within the framework of the relationship, you can involve your customers and show your own journey of change and enable participation.

What will happen tomorrow? 

So it's clear that you need more transparency - what else can you do as a company? 

A strategy is needed! Here, there are 5 basic steps that companies can consider for their future actions: 

  1. Clear goals: What exactly is to be changed and by when? Goals should not only be set so that they are realistically achievable - they should also be clearly communicated to the outside world. 

  2. Know your counterpart: Consumers' expectations and demands are changing. Therefore, it doesn't help to know what your target group wants today. What they want tomorrow can be decisive. 

  3. Planning: Changes are not possible overnight and require planning, time and resources. Therefore, it makes sense to focus on one aspect at a time while remaining transparent. Change your packaging today and talk about it. Tomorrow you can take care of your deliveries and talk about it, and so on and so forth. 

  4. Look inward at yourself as well: Changes should also be supported by the employees in the company, because otherwise it remains with thought processes. 

  5. Do good and talk about it: Sharing successes and progress is important, as is outlining the journey ahead. This is how you offer consumers not only clues for trust, but also guidance. 

One honest and transparent step at a time, is more important than a radical new change with gaps and without taking your employees with you. The future of marketing clearly lies in the area of impact, you can read more about it here.


Do good and talk about it, but make sure that your good is really good. Not only for your company, but also for your employees, the environment, your customers and the world of tomorrow. Expectations of companies are not diminishing and the pressure to act is increasing. But probably the biggest "sin" of today is the worst consequence of and for tomorrow: Doing nothing will not solve the problem.

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