Greenwashing in Marketing: Many Professionals Asked to Work on Sustainability Campaigns Without Dedicated Training
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A UK survey of 200-plus marketing professionals has revealed that 76% have worked on sustainability-related campaigns for clients in the last five years, despite many feeling unqualified to do so. The research suggests a skills gap between the need for sustainability marketing and professionals trained in this subject, prompting concerns about greenwashing amid legal crackdowns against the practice.
The poll, carried out by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), revealed that 45% of marketers have come under pressure from clients to provide more ‘green’ marketing. But the demand for such projects is growing faster than educational and training in this sector – 40% of respondents said they’d like to attain a qualification related to sustainability communications.
Without proper training and knowledge, marketing professionals don’t always feel comfortable working on sustainability-related briefs due to a fear of being accused of greenwashing. The survey found that 49% had spoken to their employer or client about the reputational and legal risks accusations of greenwashing have brought in the last five years.
The CIM separately polled 2,000 Brits and 1,193 online consumers, 63% of whom want brands to be more vocal about their sustainability work. This includes highlighting information better and providing more detailed and transparent data.
There’s a trust issue at hand here. Two-thirds of consumers said they think most brands are not being authentic when they talk about their environmental initiatives. It’s in line with a 2022 Google survey that found 68% of US CEOs were guilty of greenwashing research that found, as well as a 2021 poll (across four EU countries) revealing that 53% of consumers can’t identify greenwashing claims on product packaging.
The legislative battle against greenwashing
The CIM puts a spotlight on companies and executives at a time when governmental bodies are clamping down on greenwashing. Earlier this year, the EU published its Green Claims Directive, which requires businesses to assess and meet new minimum “substantiation requirements” for green claims. This meant utilising recognised scientific evidence and state-of-the-art knowledge, reporting greenhouse gas offsets transparently, and providing information on whether the product performs environmentally significantly better than the common practice.
Green claims can now only cover environmental impacts that have been assessed according to the substantiation requirements and identified as ‘significant’ for the product or business. A major aspect being acted upon is the use of ‘carbon-neutral’ on product packaging, when a company is instead using offsetting measures.
The legislation means that all kinds of goods and brands will be subject to new, ‘proportionate’ penalties, leading to the enforcement of greenwashing in the EU and a class-action-style mechanism that allows consumer organisations to bring actions against green claims they find improperly substantiated.
Governments are also providing guidance to companies to verify their claims. In the UK, the Green Claims Code lays out a six-point checklist to see if a business’s environmental claims are credible. There’s also support from the private sector. In 2021, British startup Provenance launched its Provenance Framework, an open-source rulebook listing the criteria companies need to fulfil to make a true environmental claim, and avoid greenwashing and misleading consumers.
“As marketers, we are all responsible for being proactive in implementing positive changes and embracing environmentally friendly working practices,” said CIM CEO Chris Daly. He called on the marketing industry to address the sustainability skills gap and ensure professionals are well-equipped with the right skills to avoid greenwashing and “drive the positive responsible behavioural changes needed within society”.