Branding with Authenticity, Without Green-washing or Social-washing.
Updated: Feb 2
Values. Just one aspect of an organization that plays into its branding, but a crucial one, especially to organizations for which purpose, mission, vision, change and impact are not just important, but a core to their existence. If that’s the kind of organization that you are part of, then you know what I’m talking about! For these social enterprises, an equally important aspect of branding is communicating a consistent message that reflects the organization’s values accurately. This means limiting contradictions that can give an impression that you are not genuine in your dedication to the values that you say you have, and thus prevent greenwashing. Greenwashing happens when our actions and messages around sustainability and/or ethics don’t align, transparency is missing, and the contradictions are numerous or very significant. Since you’re still reading, I'm sure that you genuinely do care, so let's look at how we can avoid giving that dreaded impression and avoid using ‘sustainability’ as a marketing buzzword! First, let's acknowledge that it's really hard to avoid contradictions, especially in a society where the cheaper, easier options are usually riddled with environmental and social issues and that sometimes trying to make one thing more sustainable can create or expose other eco or social issues. For instance, it may seem easiest and cheapest for a café to use all disposables. If the café wants to become more ‘green’, and gets ceramic cups, they will need a dishwasher, which will increase water and soap usage. So, the quest to be eco-friendly continues, and with it, the assessment of how each change will affect the environment. It can take a lot of work! But, by having sustainability as part of your organization's plans and mission, you can improve your practices and products on a continual basis. This will improve the sustainability of your organization over time. I would say that we should not let a fear of the contradictions keep us from communicating the work we are doing to increase our environmental sustainability. Use your marketing to be honest with your audience. Share the work you're doing, and the challenges. Express to them where you have shortcomings, what improvements you’re working on, and what you believe you’re doing well. By having your products and your actions back up your messages, and by being honest about where you’re at in the process, your audience will see that you are genuine and want to join you for the ride. An additional strategy is to work on getting certifications like Fair Trade or Organic Certification. This will provide standards to drive your efforts, and show your audience that a third party has verified that you do what you say you do. All of this will build trust, which creates loyal customers.
Something to be aware of: B Corp doesn't actually verify the reports provided by applicants - the system is based on trust. So, on the one hand, if you put the work into it and you are honest in your application and reporting, then the standard will help to drive the actions of your organization, guiding it towards a greater level of sustainability. If you share the journey of working on and accomplishing this with your audience, they will appreciate the effort and see the value of your certification. On the other hand, B Corp has been criticized for providing a tool for corporations to greenwash, so if you do not want to align your organization with that, I would understand. People WANT to connect with purpose driven brands that align with their values. So don’t keep it to yourself that you’ve switched to using bodums for making coffee with reduced energy usage! Rather than making repeated statements that you are eco-friendly, sustainable, natural, fair-trade etc., share what actions you ARE taking that make your organization sustainable and ethical. Through honesty, evidence and visual branding, all of which align with your business’ values, you can show your ideal audience that you are the perfect match for them. Photo from StampMe.