Falsely Green

Written by Bill Tanzer


There is a big difference between admiring an ad and believing its message. There is a big chasm between rhetoric and reality and you can bet your bottom line that your clients know that difference. Boasting about excellent customer service, then leaving a caller on hold for three hours? That’s not going to get anyone to take your claims seriously. Or for another example, say you own a plumbing or electrical firm, and promise “same day service or its free”. Then proceed to break that promise by finding excuses not to honor the pledge? Your company will either become a laughingstock or resented, perhaps used as a last resort when the other, more reputable plumbers are busy.

Same goes for making earth-friendly promises, then reneging or acting hypocritical with operational procedures or practices. Claiming to be eco-conscious and then packing items in multiple layers of non-biodegradable bags just doesn’t cut it.

More than ever, consumers are looking for products from companies that are going green. But just claiming to be green is a huge turnoff and can actually create a backlash, sending companies into the red. The results of this year’s Cone Green Gap Trend Tracker show that 71% of American consumers will stop buying a product if the environmental claims turn out to be false. In addition, a third of these consumers will outright boycott the company if a product does not live up to its eco-friendly claim.

This means if a coffee company claims its bags are “100% compostable” then the packaging has to be fully biodegradable, not partially. (SunChips launched a 100% plant-based biodegradable packaging. After consumers in the hundreds of thousands complained about the bag noise, Frito-Lay pulled the design. Companies that go with 100% compostable paper bags do not see such consumer outrage, or 44,000 Facebook friends setting up a page just to complain.)

Also, it doesn’t do your company any favors to imply endorsement by an environmental group. The most egregious, however, is to create a fake endorsement by an unverified third party. Similar to diploma mills, fake eco-labels are meaningless, and handed out left and right at whim. Some have even claimed that a product helps “fight global warming” which is a rather ridiculous assertion that can’t be verified.

Maybe a company can get away with such claims in the short term. Selling products to a number of strangers might be one way to make sales. Is it possible to continue building such a business? To retain the customer base, the consumers must have trust in your product and your company. Environmentally friendly packaging that is not friendly to the consumer is not going to impress too many customers.

Trying to ride the green buzz just for buzz sake is not going to fly either. More than half of your clients will be naturally skeptical to green claims. Don’t tarnish your reputation with false claims. If you want to go green, go green and mean it.

April 19, 2011

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