Guidelines for green claims in marketing seem to en vogue – the UK have just issued theirs, the US are working on one and voluntary guides on greenwash abound. The general gist, not surprisingly:

Be truthful, be specific and back up with evidence.

Futerra’s Solitaire Townsend comments on how this clashes with advertising creatives’ daily lives:

The new guidance makes it clear what you can and can’t say on claims, but doing it properly means mountains of text. So the temptation will remain to simplify, exaggerate and mistakenly make a big bang about a little squib of improvement.

Indeed. But what a two-edged sword this can be. In my work with voluntary standards systems I often encounter the opposite: Pages upon pages written in legalese, referencing mountains of text written in more legalese. Months of difficult discussions in complex stakeholder constellations have resulted in (mostly) coherent and incredibly specific systems that back up their sustainability claims with regular audits and documentation. Which is great.

Apart from the fact that somewhere along the way, comprehension is lost. There is a clear need to simplify and clarify the communications of voluntary standards systems. With all that effort and sophistication, it bugs me to hear people express their frustration about ecolabels and them not being what they say they are. I patiently keep explaining that there is a defined standard, that it’s audited regularly and that information about the certification body can usually be found on the packaging.

And so, here I am, wondering:

  • How can we explain certification, accreditation, traceability and standard-setting processes beyond policies and procedures? How much do people need to know, how much do they want to know?
  • As we simplify the language around standards systems, how do we remain true to the actual processes and create trust?
  • Given that standards systems create a new layer of governance, transform markets and create an actionable understanding of sustainability, which metaphors or stories could work? What visual representation could help?

Those that get the green claims right might also need guidance: In marketing.

Wanted: Guidelines for Marketing in Green Claims
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