Move aside, and let the actions do the talking

Earth Day – green or greenwashed? This Saturday (April 22) marks the annual sustainability benchmark of Earth Day and the team has decided to see what’s changed since our last blog identifying the growth of Marketing and PR greenwashing almost two years ago! First pass and we think we are certainly seeing that consumers, regulators, and governments have become more discerning about the claims being made through “greenwashing” or “green sheen” PR and Marketing practices.

But have businesses finally learnt the valuable lesson that actions speak louder than words? Or are sustainability pledges materializing into nothing but hot air?

Below are a few examples of the good, the bad, and the ugly side of greenwashing that have stuck a cord with the IBA team:

  • Never one to miss out on jumping on the sustainability bandwagon, Apple has recently announced plans to use more recycled metals in its devices. By 2025, the company aims to use 100% recycled cobalt in the batteries it designs. By the same date, it says magnets in its devices will contain entirely recycled rare earth elements. Even more ambitious is their plan to achieve carbon neutral products by 2030. Could this represent a turning point for the tech industry and its involvement in mined materials such as cobalt? With Apple’s first sustainability target set for 2025 we might not have long to wait to see if this one pays off!
  • Plastic waste has long been a major environmental problem, especially in the food and beverage industry – but could recent decisions from The Coca-Cola Company signify a step towards a ‘World Without Waste’? In the UK, the world’s biggest drinks company has announced it will introduce new, attached caps to its plastic bottles, making it easier to recycle the entire package and ensure no cap gets left behind. However, a previous history of failing to hit its sustainability goals means there’s a lot on the line for Coca-Cola, especially if the company plans to achieves its goal of making its packaging 100% recyclable by 2025.
  • The EUR industry is no stranger to the art of greenwashing. As the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions, EUR organizations are under more pressure than ever to do their part in creating a sustainable future. In a previous blog, we’ve talked at length on how green hydrogen is making its mark on the industry but does it look like EUR could be back to facing some crossroads as it comes under greater legal and regulatory scrutiny. In the U.S., a coalition of organizations are urging the Federal Trade Commission to update its ‘Green Guides’ to combat misleading terminology such as “natural” and “green” gas employed by oil firms to soften public perception of their activities. Meanwhile, in Europe, Greenpeace is set to take the European Commission to court over its decision to include gas and nuclear energy in the EU’s list of investments that can be labelled as “green”.

These acts of greater regulatory and legal scrutiny could be a defining moment for greenwashing and false advertising in the fossil fuel industry – so watch this space!

With this in mind, here’s our throw back to our blog of two years ago on sustainable marketing to demonstrate why it’s important for companies to build a sustainable brand portfolio and walk the talk this Earth Day.

Everyone is talking about sustainability, whether it be large or small organizations, suppliers, buyers, or your average consumer – people are seeking eco-friendly practices more than ever before. But this growth brings increased awareness and buyers are becoming more attuned to ‘greenwashing’ and the false sustainable economy – and as the adage goes, “actions speak louder than words”. So, when it comes to B2B marketing and communications, getting it right (first time) can be what it takes to gain a competitive advantage and build a positive ESG brand image.

While they may not yet feel the effect, sustainability pressures for B2B organizations are just around the corner, and here at IBA we’ve been actively positioning our clients as sustainable, brand leaders in their relevant markets. It’s so much more than just a green leaf on a logo, issuing bamboo straws to all employees or a preachy whitepaper on what the world ought to be doing. In today’s blog, we’ve rounded up the top four points to consider when pushing out credible B2B sustainability campaigns: 

First, the three T’s: transparency, trust, and time

Honesty and transparency will go far in the B2B world, as positive relationships are paramount. B2B businesses need to do more than simply ‘green sheen’ and actions must make a real difference across the board –to  partners, staff, investors and most importantly the planet. It doesn’t really take a magician to spot ‘greenwashing’, and a quick glance of a budget will show if ‘green image’ advertising spend surpasses that of the actual initiative. While it may not sound a big deal, the use of words that aren’t strictly true – ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘recyclable’ will be a dead loss and if caught out can be truly damaging for brand image.

Keep actions transparent – it will show stakeholders the good intentions of your business, improve authenticity and in turn lead to greater trust and sales. But it’s important to remember, that these changes and sustainable initiatives take time and projecting future plans without physical actions will only go so far.

Second, identify your audience– the millennials are on the sustainability march

By 2025, millennials will make up 70% of the workforce, with a significant impact on decision-making, they’re leading the sustainability charge – and listening to their values will be crucial. Research by Marketo shows that over half of B2B organizations find building awareness much harder than it used to be, but with millennials twice as likely as Generation X to select a brand that promotes their environmental and sustainability practices, it might be time to up the outreach game.

So with 2025 just a few years away, millennials could make up the majority of the B2B buyer pool and/or investors and they want to work with sustainable brands – but what’s the point of a sustainability campaign that gets no awareness? It’s time you started talking to the eager ears of your (perhaps new) audience, whether that be through social platforms or the media – if you’re struggling, we wrote a handy guide on this years ago and the message still rings true.

Third in the list – invest in a circular economy model

No sustainability campaign will see results overnight – in fact the process can be quite lengthy – and while there are some short-term fixes i.e., reducing waste from events and selecting more ethical vendors, the real benefits will come when organizations adopt larger-scale practices into their campaigns.

Introducing the circular economy model. This sustainability strategy aims to reduce environmental footprints, operational waste and increase the efficiency of expensive resources – appealing attributes for investors and consumers alike. In its simplest form, business can create sustainable supply chains that recycle or reuse the resources used to create their products or make use of renewable technologies such as wind or solar energy. When it comes to putting the notion into practice, research has shown that 70% of consumers have or would like to try re-used or recycled products.

A circular business model is an ongoing process, but the results include increased competitiveness, economic growth, improved brand loyalty, a reduction in materials and an increase in consumer spending – so they will be worth shouting about!

…and finally – get serious about geography – research is key, localize your message

Globally, sustainability is a highly recognized area of concern however, where you are in the world, will hinge on what those around you consider ‘sustainability’ to be. Research from GreenBiz highlights the key focus areas associated with each country – for example, in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, consumers deem sustainability to be a ‘fair price’ whereas in North America, recycling is a primary concern. Latin Americans first think about alternative sources of energy; and for those in Asia-Pacific, the environment first comes to mind. In our latest research report, we confirmed that B2B organizations are indeed looking to expand into new markets and geographies and localizing your marketing messages rather than using a ‘one idea fits all’ approach, could reap many business benefits – including trust and a more targeted approach.

Marketing and PR are your friends – use them wisely

Sustainability truly is taking the world by storm and these days, brand image, reputation, growth, and sales heavily rest on the way companies react to the changing landscape – which is where marketing and PR pros come into their own. Words without actions become empty promises, and that won’t sit well with such an increasingly-aware consumer base – and while the trend is yet to hit the B2B world quite as hard as B2C, taking accountability for new initiatives will need to be top of the agenda for B2B companies this year!

Still stuck? Check out this website – please note the company was founded in 1893 by a graduate of MIT, and then reach out to the IBA team today and let us do the hard work – or visit our Global Outreach Hub to learn more:

Georgia Harris is PR Executive at IBA International.

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