29 Aug 2012

Greenwashing is an Image Killer

Businesses Need New Communications Strategy

A study shows: Businesses are suffering damage to their sustainability image. Advertising agencies should distance themselves from Greenwashing and provide reliable information.

Munich, 29 August 2012: The green paint with which businesses have coated themselves thanks to large CSR advertising budgets cannot withstand the drizzle. At least that is the view of consumers suggested by the 2012 “Sustainability Image Score” (SIS). The sustainability image score for all high ranking businesses including the frontrunners “HiPP”, “Alete” and “BMW” has fallen. Experts therefore demand from businesses and also from PR and advertising agencies a new communications strategy.

According to the sustainability study SIS issued by the Serviceplan Group, 7,678 people were surveyed and asked to evaluate the efforts of 101 businesses from 16 sectors towards sustainability. In comparison with the year 2011, all businesses across the board performed worse, although their activities either hadn’t changed or had been expanded.

Greenwashing is responsible for these results, according to experts from the sustainability industry, as well as for consumer disappointment and the related loss of trust. “Consumers have become more critical because advertisements often sell a green image that is entirely fake”, says Udo Censkowsky, sustainability consultant in the food sector and director of Organic Services GmbH. “This is tragic because the attack affects all CSR initiatives equally."

Greenwashing, rightly criticised by environmental associations, also silences businesses that are committed to sustainability. The process of changing an entire supply chain to make it carbon neutral or organic, for example, can be very drawn-out. Currently, companies that are just beginning to invest in sustainable or social projects can find themselves in a vulnerable position. “Before any finger pointing begins, businesses rather think twice about whether they would like to get involved”, says Censkowsky.

In this way, valuable opportunities to anchor the issue of sustainability in the awareness of manufacturers and consumers are passing by. Especially since big businesses currently would have the possibility, thanks to their communications and advertising budgets, to clear the air. In this way, the “2012 Biodiversity Barometer” reveals that in Brazil 75% of the people surveyed encountered the issue of biodiversity through company communications.

Communications expert, Florian Haller, is the managing director of Serviceplan Group and will be a keynote speaker on this topic at the Sustainability Conference, SusCon, that will take place in Bonn from November 27-28 2012. Haller demands for a new type of communication: “Businesses that are serious about environmental awareness and responsible conduct should not place themselves on the defensive”. PR and advertising agencies especially play a central role. They should clearly distance themselves from Greenwashing and concentrate on “providing reliable information to consumers”.

In order to effectively clear things up, agencies need information, whether it deals with climate protection, biodiversity or fair-trade. The SusCon wants to make sure that specialised and qualified NGO communications experts and business representatives don’t fight against each other but rather work together to legitimately integrate sustainability into advertising.

Making sustainable consumption attractive for the consumers and thereby strengthening the Green Economy must be the goal of a responsible communication, says Haller. Everyone is a winner in this case: businesses strengthen the trust in their name, the environmental organizations, with the help of businesses, can reach their original goals.

For more information: www.suscon.net

Press Contact:

Mildred Steidle, Organic Services: +49 89-82075908 or +49 151 46748807; m.steidle@remove-this.organic-services.com
Anna Gauto, forum CSR international: +49 89 74661123; a.gauto@remove-this.forum-csr.net

SusCon Organisers:
Udo Cendskowsky, Organic Services: +49 (0)89-82075902; u.censkowsky@remove-this.organic-services.com
Bernward Geier, COLABORA: +49 (0)2245-618652; b.geier@remove-this.colabora-together.de
Fritz Lietsch, Forum Nachhaltig Wirtschaften: +49 (0)89-746611-41; f.lietsch@remove-this.forum-csr.net

SusCon 2012 – The “International Conference on Sustainable Business and Consumption” brings together business representatives with important stakeholders from governments and UN organisations, as well as NGOs. The conference will take place in 2012 for the first time in the UN city of Bonn. From November 27-28 2012, businesses, NGOs and politicians will discuss the topic of a “Green Economy” and present solutions for sustainable supply chains. Technical innovations, CSR 2.0, resource efficiency, certification, as well as changes in financing and lifestyles will be in focus. 400 participants are expected to attend. At its last meeting in 2010, the SusCon attracted business, political, NGO and media representatives from 28 countries.