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"How can I compete with this? My competitors are greenwashing!!"

Updated: Aug 3, 2023


A little while back, I had an interesting meeting with a colleague in the organic sector.


Dag Falck has worked in the organic movement and industry for over 3 decades, the better part of 2 of those decades for a large company (with grassroots origins) that has been selling certified organic products since their inception. Now retired, Dag still deeply cares about the industry he worked with and helped develop over the years, and he continues to support the sector as a consultant.


He mentioned that non-organic (especially large corporate) brands competing with organic and other environmentally responsible brands would observe the kinds of messaging used by the responsible producers and then attempt to pinch that messaging to make their own products sound similar. So sneaky.


Using a form of greenwashing, these sneaky companies watched the organic/sustainability sector (who genuinely prioritize sustainable and healthy practices) and picked up their use of phrases such as “all natural”, “grown sustainably", or even "grown with regenerative practices" to mislead audiences into thinking their products were just as ecological. Unlike the term “organic” – which has national standards, annual inspections, and government oversight and enforcement – phrases like “all natural” aren’t clearly defined or regulated, and the greenwashers take advantage of this to mislead their target audience.

 

Just to be clear, if you are a farmer who grows things in ways that are sustainable, natural and that regenerates soils and supports healthier ecosystems while growing healthy food, I truly support and appreciate your work, and encourage you to describe the benefits of your methods as fully as you can with your audience. I am not implying that any farmer who

doesn’t have organic certification is greenwashing if they say they use regenerative farming practices.

 

Dag asked if there were any solutions. There are no quick and easy fixes – if there were, greenwashing wouldn’t be the problem it is! – but I’d like to offer 6 strategies that responsible businesses can use to push back. And, of course, I have a dinosaur analogy to share at the end!


If you’re concerned about greenwashing within your own industry and how to cut through it, read on!



6 strategies to deal with competitors that greenwash


1. If you happen to have trademarked your slogans and messaging and are in the position to take legal action, then you may have some recourse in that way (please seek legal advice for this one).


2. Report greenwashing to the media, your industry association or through the Competition Bureau. They enforce laws that can address environmental claims that are based on inadequate testing or are false or misleading.

3. Communicate the situation to your audience carefully. You don’t want to come off as petty or negative, and you definitely don’t want to inadvertently turn your audience’s attention from your company to your shady competition!!

4. Work on building trust with your audience (and trust in the process of building trust)! When people see greenwashing happen, it erodes their sense of trust quickly. If you have been working on building trust over time and building your authentic brand, your audience will remain loyal even if they see competing brands trying to sneak in.


5. Keep an eye on greenwashing competitors. Have a process to watch them, whether it’s by staying tuned in with your industry association, having a reminder in your calendar to see what key competitors are saying on a semi-regular basis, or even following them. Let’s be honest, you may get some ideas on how you can better market your business as well -- whether through good examples or bad!


6. Keep on keeping on. Don’t let it discourage you. Just keep working on improving your product/service and marketing over time. Do the best you can and get some support when you need it! After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!


Triceratops, T-Rex, and the “Evolutionary Arms Race”



Competition in the market is kinda like what zoologists call “evolutionary arms race.” Prey and predator species were (and are) always in a process of one-upmanship. For instance, over time, triceratops evolved to grow to bigger sizes because it was more effective for defending themselves against predators. In response, t-rex did as well, in order to have greater strength and the ability to take down triceratops! The pattern continued for millions of years, allowing both species to grow to gigantic sizes. To some degree, it’s only natural that marketers will use best practices that they learn from others. In the case of corporations who are not afraid to greenwash, we really have our work cut out for us.

Need support with navigating through the swampy land of slimy competition? Get in touch! We have different levels of strategy packages that can help, and you get a free discovery call to start!

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