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Green business and sustainability is a megatrend that has dominated the media over the past couple of years, and it’s only picking up more traction as the world wakes up to the increasingly dangerous effects of climate change.

We’ve seen plenty of sustainability movements grow over the years, from the likes of Extinction Rebellion to environmental activist Greta Thunberg, publicly scrutinising climate issues that many of the world’s governments refuse to address.

With the world as it is, It can then be all too tempting to hop on the sustainability communications to help promote a much-needed change in environmental attitude. However, in the age of social media – where two-way communication means consumers are in control of conversations about your brand, this can be a risky thing if done poorly.

If your brand doesn’t have the sustainable actions or reputation to make their communications genuine, people will see right through you.

So, if you’re genuine about your environmental commitment, how do you avoid what’s known as greenwashing in your marketing communications?

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing in marketing is a strategy that involves everything from fast-fashion brands pushing sustainability lines in their product promises to oil and gas firms injecting a pop of green into their advertising for the sake of it.

To define greenwashing officially, it refers to tactics that directly mislead consumers through a disparity between the symbolic and substantive environmental actions of corporate-level activities and marketing communications.

Phew. Bit of a mouthful, right? In short, greenwashing as a marketing strategy focuses on brands making false environmental commitments or statements.

How to spot greenwashing

Despite its fairly obvious connotations, greenwashing can be remarkably tricky to spot at times, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the term.

Essentially, if you want to know how to spot greenwashing in digital PR, you just need to keep an eye out for any brand jumping on proactive opportunities for things such as global recycling day, or launching a sustainable hotspots campaign without having the CSR (corporate social responsibility) credentials to back it up.

This happens with a lot of brands, but particularly with energy companies that claim that they sell ‘cleaner energy’ products. Fast-fashion giants have also been known to bring out the ‘sustainable’ fashion lines by using the plastic waste they’ve created to make renewable clothing.

So, what’s our top tip for how to spot greenwashing? Look out for buzzwords such as “greener” and “eco-friendly” when reading any online PR piece, and always do your research on the business in question.

Why is greenwashing bad?

While greenwashing in marketing comes with bad connotations, why is it so bad to help promote a greener outlook and raise climate awareness?

In the era of social media, consumers have the power to discover and share pretty much anything they want about a company – warts and all! You just have to look at the famous oat milk brand that went viral recently; it was revealed that one of their investors was investing in infrastructure projects linked to deforestation.

That’s not great if you’re trying to promote sustainability.

Many studies have shown that when companies use sustainable marketing communications which don’t align with their values, this can lead to a higher level of scrutiny on their actions. In fact, numerous studies reveal that increased greenwashing activity negatively correlates with brand attitude and purchase intention.

Greenwashing can actually cause more backlash from the consumer regarding the sustainability efforts of your brand, which can cause way more harm than good. In fact, 1 in 3 consumers state they stopped purchasing from certain brands because they had ethical or sustainability-related concerns about them!

With that in mind, you shouldn’t need to ask why is greenwashing bad?

How to stop greenwashing in your marketing

First thing’s first, you should always make sure you are fully aware of your client’s sustainability efforts when you are planning a PR campaign. You don’t want to include anything that they don’t actively promote themselves.

If the brand leaves a lot to be desired on the sustainability front, then you should avoid moving forward with campaigns that largely focus on sustainability. Otherwise, there’s a big risk of negative word-of-mouth around their brand image, as well as consumer trust.

So, ask yourself:

  • What are your target audience’s ethics, and are they likely to scrutinise potentially disingenuous green marketing efforts?
  • Is the campaign relevant to sustainability, and does it align with your brand ethics and corporate activity?
  • Do you have the sustainability efforts to back up your message in case of negative word of mouth?

All in all, sustainability should be all about what you’re doing and not what you look like you’re doing. Basically, don’t make it all foam and no beer!


When it comes to our client’s digital PR campaign, we always focus on what the client can provide and what they stand for. We don’t sell our clients short, and we always provide transparency to the consumer. We also make sure to provide our own environmental commitment to help promote sustainability.

If you’re ready to make a difference with your digital PR campaigns, get in touch with us today to see what we can do for you.

We also don’t just provide digital PR to our clients. When you choose connective3, you can get SEO services, content marketing analysis, paid social campaigns, and much more. We’ve also got plenty more tips and tricks for how to succeed in the digital agency industry, all of which you can find on the c3 blog.