Greenwashing alert! What if all these commitments aren’t all just wind?
30 Jul, 2019
Until 50 years ago, in the era of the old-fashioned com’, the environmental cause was far from being a strategic axis to be developed.
Brands had too little consideration for their impact on consumer health and even less on the environment. What is the final situation today? At a time when Coca-Cola is reducing plastic, how is collective awareness reaching the largest companies?
CSR, yes, but…..
Individual and collective awareness therefore has an impact on the way we consume in general and on our purchasing actions in particular. As a result, brands that want to remain competitive have no choice but to face one of the biggest issues of our century: their environmental impact.
CSR is easily associated with a positive approach, and many people talk about it, but few really know what it is. According to an Ipsos study from 2018*, 49% of respondents do not know what CSR is, only 12% say they know exactly what it is and 76% still associate it with social and environmental values.
The employees interviewed are convinced that the CSR of their company allows it to enhance its image. Indeed, more than three-quarters of them see their company’s commitment as a way to maintain its reputation. Moreover, 58% of French people believe that it is more effective to communicate on commitments than to invest in advertising campaigns**.
Between the brands that talk about it and those that actually apply it, a gap is beginning to widen and it will still take a little while for companies to revisit their model and their production methods. Fortunately, some companies such as Maison du Monde, Groupe SEB and Groupe Accor are already contributing to these changes in business models. Thus, in a world where financial pressure is increasing, some have chosen their side. For example, BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, requires companies to engage in social and environmental issues and no longer supports companies with a purely business focus.
The new way of consumption of the millennials, in search of the act of conscious purchasing, creator of meaning and values, also makes it possible to make things evolve. To attract this target, brands must be increasingly irreproachable and transparent. Aware of these new trends, they no longer hesitate to put CSR at the heart of their business strategy.
But are these companies really taken seriously with regard to their commitments?
Danone, which supports farmers, Carrefour, which is launching a major communication campaign called “Act for food”, Coca-Cola, which reduces its plastic consumption, L’Oréal, which reduces its dependence on palm oil… All this makes people dream, but what is really going on? Many companies have been or are being singled out and accused of greenwashing, i.e. putting forward ecological arguments through communication and marketing strategies in order to perfect its brand image.
When Nespresso is caught off guard by a bad buzz about the impact of its aluminum capsules on our planet, the brand decides to take the deal and get involved. Indeed, it announces the collection of capsules used to recycle them and has been manufacturing new capsules from recycled aluminium since 2012. However, these announcements are the subject of debate and Nespresso is accused of greenwashing. The brand with the famous capsules is not the only one to be accused of lack of transparency on its practices and some companies prefer to move forward in their own corner rather than risk a bad media buzz. It is indeed complicated to be 100% clean, so for fear, some people do not dare to communicate on the subject. A strategy specific to each of them, which perhaps deserves to be adjusted.
Indeed, wouldn’t it be better to assume and acknowledge difficulties rather than hide them? Transparency might offer more credibility to the general public, but it would also put an end to a taboo that would encourage brands to stop communicating in fear. Of course, companies want to do business, but is it utopian to think that both are incompatible?
To take Nespresso’s example, the brand communicates on its carbon neutral footprint in France and on the planting of trees in the coffee plantations with which it works: verified and true information. On the contrary, this does not prevent it from also communicating its business ambitions for the coming years. So it’s not antinomic.
It is now important to take into account that a company’s environmental impact is part of the criteria for purchasing and adopting a brand. Each structure has a margin of progress on the subject. It is essential that the latter communicate with all their interlocutors, even the most pessimistic, in order to create dialogue and to silence, as far as possible, certain preconceived ideas. A mode of communication that the new brands have adopted since their creation: the notions of commitment are now an integral part of the new business models, which certainly differentiates start-ups from more established companies, which have more difficulty opening up dialogue on the subject.
Those who set the example
Fortunately, consumer giants and DNVB (Digitally Native Vertical Brand) are following this trend.
One of the best examples is Patagonia, the love brand par excellence that shows the way to many actors. The brand makes it a point of honour to keep the manufacturing process green and to use environmentally friendly materials. In particular, it was the first to offer surfers a neoprene-free suit, created the Worn Wear platform to buy and resell clothing already worn in order to fight waste, donated 1% of its sales to environmental associations, etc. The brand regularly launches major communication campaigns in line with its commitments, such as the latest Artifishal campaign.
The famous sneaker brand Veja also claims to follow an ethical and ecological model by proving that it is quite possible to manufacture environmentally friendly products. The brand uses organic cotton produced by farmers’ associations in South America, with respect for people and the environment, the electricity that supplies its offices is not produced by EDF, but by the Enercoop cooperative.
Veja has also decided not to spend money on advertising campaigns, which allows them to offer products at the same prices as some major American sneaker brands, with a greener manufacturing process.
Guerlain is one of the first brands in the luxury cosmetics sector to have implemented a strategy linked to sustainable development by focusing on transparency with “Bee Respect“. This platform allows to track the origin of the brand’s skin care products. It indicates to consumers the composition of the product, its origin, the origin of packaging materials and ingredients.
At our level, we were pleasantly surprised that the retailer Nature & Découvertes accepted our proposal to take the last Black Friday the wrong way by offering its customers Fair Friday. A 100% committed way of raising public awareness of biodiversity loss by mobilizing them and offering them support for concrete actions. A campaign that was an unexpected success, led by #DesReductionsQuiComptent, in opposition to the consumer society. Two thousand euros invested, nearly three million contacts for an equivalent purchase of space of 633 thousand euros… and thirty thousand more euros to preserve biodiversity, donated to 4 associations: LPO, Sea Shepherd, Longitude 181 and ASPAS.
You have probably thought that some of your favourite products are far too wrapped. This is why major consumer brands such as Carrefour, Milka, Coca Cola and Tropicana have taken up the challenge of creating a platform that promises to overcome single-use packaging: Loop. The latter will soon be launched in the United States and France. A risky challenge for some of the participating brands, which are very often singled out for their lack of consideration for the environment. So, real progress or intoxication? It’s up to you to judge!
In short, as you have understood, the idea is gaining ground with some of the major players in our world. Is transparency the solution to move forward and be understood?
The future will tell us. One thing is for sure, you have to have strong loins to assume that you are not all white on the subject. And after the fight against waste and biodiversity, what are the next steps? The complete overhaul of digital uses for companies? There is still a long way to go but we will get there! Have faith ✌
*Ipsos study for OPENMIND KFÉ conducted from 24 September to 12 October 2018 online among 870 people, representing a representative sample of the French population.
**Earned Brand 2018 study by Elan Edelman
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