Hannah Coles of E4 Environment explains how third party accreditation can help your business avoid the 'greenwash' trap
Shoppers are more aware now than ever of the ethical and environmental impact of goods and services. With a new agenda that factors in the sustainability of businesses it's telling that, according to the Ethical Consumerism Report 2012, 50 per cent of consumers surveyed have avoided a product based on a company's responsible reputation. It's more noticeable than ever that organisations large and small have started using their environmental practices as a marketing tool so, from supermarkets to your local coffee shop, there are green claims everywhere.
Although it is not necessarily the case that well informed consumers will make the ‘right' choice, there is evidence to suggest that consumers are reacting more strongly to businesses that disregard environmental and ethical concerns.
Boycotts have gone up by 123 per cent over 2010-2012 and whether it's avoiding products containing unsustainable palm oil or refusing to use certain patrol stations, potential customers have been more proactive in ensuring their money goes into the pocket of a seemingly cleaner organisation. Charities such as Greenpeace and Amnesty continue to influence the way in which the public views ethically irresponsible business, however the growing availability of information online means that shoppers are more aware than ever before.
So how can businesses make the most of their environmental practices to attract custom?
Start sharing your green practices in a credible way. Your business may have a fleet of hybrid vehicles or source its energy from a renewable provider. You may have planted trees to offset your carbon or you endeavour to buy recycled and fair trade goods for office use. All of these actions are valid efforts to cut environmental impact but, while these claims may be true, be careful to avoid greenwash.
Terms such as 'natural', 'green' and 'eco-friendly' won't cut the mustard with today's savvy audience who will be looking for evidence. If you are serious about your green side then accreditation will serve as a simple reminder to customers that you are the real deal when making these claims.
ISO 14001 tends to be the standard for larger businesses looking to demonstrate their environmental management operations. This is accreditation that the consumer can trust and is particularly useful when bidding for contracts.
For SME's, ISO 14001 is often out of reach as a manageable and affordable form of accreditation. An alternative option is The Green Achiever Scheme - an initiative designed for businesses that are keen to market their environmental good practice and so are looking for third party certification. The scheme also offers higher level accreditation that acts as a stepping stone towards more demanding accreditation like ISO 14001.
Whatever route you decide to take when marketing your green side, be aware that the next generation of consumers will be more informed on environmental issues than ever before. Why not act upon the trend, get ahead of the curve and take advantage of your environmental credentials today?