Marketers fear being fingered by ‘greenwashing’ rap

climate-change-2063240_1280Marketers are increasingly getting the heebie-jeebies over working on sustainability campaigns due to fears that their company or clients will be accused of “greenwashing”, despite consumer calls for brands to increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services.

That is according to new research from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, timed to coincide with the introduction of new regulations, including the Competition & Markets Authority’s Green Claims Code, introduced to hold brands more accountable for their sustainability claims.

The survey, which quizzed over 200 marketing professionals in the UK, found nearly half (48%) fear being criticised for greenwashing even though 55% recognise sustainability as a business priority, and a similar proportion (51%) admit climate change could threaten the very existence of their business or clients.

Even so, two-fifths (40%) of marketers admit they do not have marketing qualifications relating to sustainability but are interested in one, revealing a critical skills gap that needs addressing.

And, despite a lack of formal training, three quarters (76%) say they have been involved in sustainability work in the past five years, and nearly half (45%) feel under pressure in their role to communicate their company or clients’ sustainability credentials.

Additional research carried out by CIM, which surveyed 2,000 UK consumers, reveals an expectation for companies to be doing more when it comes to sustainability, with more than three-fifths (63%) of adults agreeing that brands should increase communications around the sustainability of their products and services.

However, the research shows consumers are sceptical of brands’ sustainability efforts, with the same proportion (63%) believing many brands only get involved with sustainability for commercial reasons, as opposed to ethical reasons.

The findings also show that younger age groups (18- to 34-year-olds) are more receptive to sustainable marketing, with six in ten (59%) saying they are more likely to buy products or services from a brand that advertises how sustainable they are, as opposed to less than a third (31%) of those aged 55 and above.

CIM marketing director Gemma Butler said: “We see regulation is coming to try and stem the volume of ‘greenwashing’, and this is a good thing in my opinion. To really make progress in tackling the sustainability challenge, we must see businesses be more open and transparent about their impact on the environment as consumers, employees and indeed investors are all asking for it.

“At CIM we welcome new supporting legislation like the Green Claims Code. We feel passionately that marketers should not shy away from communicating on their sustainability credentials out of fear of being labelled as ‘greenwashing’.

“If anything, it should encourage them to upskill immediately, so they have the tools and knowledge to feed into effective sustainability-led organisational strategies – after all, the environmental challenge will only get worse if we don’t start taking decisive and collaborative action to change the path we are on.”

Some 71% of marketers feel they already have a voice within their company or with their clients when it comes to sustainability, demonstrating the positive impact they could have within businesses when armed with the right skills.

An additional online poll on LinkedIn by CIM of 1,193 people found that 71% of respondents felt that marketing now played a significant role when it comes to driving sustainability initiatives. Only 3% felt that marketing had no power to drive through change.

Butler continued: “Every marketer should remind themselves that their job is not just about driving click-throughs or marketing a product. They are in a unique position to influence social change, mediating the relationship between brands and their customers. They should act as a catalyst for positive change and have an important role to play in making sure that brands have sustainability high up on the priority list.”

Just last week, it was claimed that brand owners’ are using false environmental claims to get customers to switch away from paper to digital communications, in a strategy that not only costs the UK paper, print and mailing sector £22m a year but also puts undue pressure on vulnerable consumers to turn off paper bills.

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