February 23, 2023
February 23, 2023

Beauty consumers know their hyaluronic acid from their lactic, their retinoids from their retinol. Your customers today know exactly what and more importantly, who they want to buy from and aren’t afraid to check the label. The demand for total transparency (if you missed it check out my previous post all about the top trends of 2023 to get up to speed) has meant that consumers are choosing carefully which brands they support with a particular interest in those brands whose formulations are natural, organic, sustainably sourced or vegan.


With this in mind, you’ve guessed it, there’s been a huge shift towards brands altering their existing messaging to include these marketing buzzwords: without always having the evidence to back them up. Enter the phrase: ‘greenwashing’, but what actually is it and how can you make sure your brand isn’t accused of it?


Greenwashing: a definition.

We traditionally think of it as a relatively ‘new’ term but it is in fact included in the Oxford English dictionary. They define greenwashing as ‘the creation or propagation of an unfounded or misleading environmental image.’


Clearly greenwashing is something brands MUST be aware of when in pursuit of their sustainability goals or a more sustainable image.


How can you protect yourself?

Clearly there are things to carefully consider when communicating a brand’s sustainability credentials to the world. Here are my top recommendations:

    Put in the work.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick routes here. At it’s heart avoiding greenwashing is about truly putting in the work to create a greener business. Knowledge is power, so step one is to learn as much as possible about your supply chain and operations, right down to what your partners are doing and any regulations that might affect your business. There will be shades of grey, for example, to what extent are you as a business responsible for your supplier’s emissions. It’s not clear cut but a general rule of thumb would be that the bigger the company, the greater the pressure to clean up your supply chain.

Next step is to set tangible goals, internal policies and strategies to hold the business accountable. Once these are implemented it’s crucial to collect and store detailed data on your progress against them, making sure to test and learn along the way. Finally, for added credibility, start shouting about your progress in the public domain. 


    Stop using vague language.

The main takeaway here: learn the power of your words. If you’ve seen my previous post all about the marketing terms you might want to forget, you’ll already be ahead of the game but words like ‘clean’, ‘green’, ‘environmentally friendly’ and sometimes even ‘natural’ communicate little about the actual environmental impact of a product. They’re also the words most often used by brands to make a product appear more sustainable than it is. Consumers have grown wise to the fact that there is no official standard (aside from organic and cruelty free) that a product has to meet in order to be referred to as such. It’s also important to be careful of inadvertently greenwashing by using terms such as ‘compostable’, ‘biodegradable’ and ‘plastic-free. These may all seem harmless when added into your marketing, but all of them have precise regulated definitions. Ultimately, consumers don’t care if you didn’t mean to mislead them, they’ll simply care (and remember) that you did!


    Focus on packaging.

Packaging is one of the main areas of scrutiny in today’s beauty world. There’s nothing that’s off limits: is every component recyclable? Are your products refillable? Does it contain virgin plastic, if so why? Brands need to go consistently above and beyond when it comes to packaging and attempt to ensure that each and every element is recycled and as sustainably minded as possible. It’s no use trying to claim that a product’s formula is ‘natural’ and ‘sustainably minded’ if it arrives to the consumer in non-recyclable materials and wrapped in plastic.


    Accept that perfection is an illusion.

Despite what you might assume having read the above, the public doesn’t expect your business to have ALL of the answers. They don’t expect brands to always get the best results, or to achieve net-zero emissions against impossible odds. They do, however, expect you to be honest.

Brands need to honestly communicate what they’re doing about their sustainable practices and admit the limitations they face. This level of honest communication and self-accountability is lost when businesses always strive to achieve perfection. Taking an honest approach now will build consumer trust in your products and the brand as a whole which will become especially important when going into the financial uncertainty that is the upcoming year. For example, share with your consumers that you are working to implement new sustainable packaging in the form of 100% recycled plastic, or introducing sugar-starch alternatives, or that by the end of X year, the head office will be powered by 100% renewable energy. Its good to share what your aims are, just keep to the facts and keep on top of it, update your website and social channels as and when you do have a breakthrough in this space and achieve your goals, consumers will care and you are bringing them on your journey.


The bottom line?

With more consumers than ever becoming increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of the goods and services they buy than ever before, businesses are incentivized to implement more sustainable practices and communicate them publicly. However, there’s a very fine line between green marketing and greenwashing and if you hope to win discerning consumers over, you need to walk that line carefully.


‘Brand reputations can take years to build and seconds to destroy. Stick to the facts & share progress.’