Survey: Half of UK marketing professionals fear greenwashing accusations
Half (49%) of UK-based marketing professionals communicating the sustainability ambitions and actions of companies are worried their work may be perceived as greenwashing, amid increased consumer demand for - and scrutiny of - environmental claims.
That is according to a survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), which polled 210 marketing professionals working either in-house or in a consultancy capacity in the UK this autumn.
The results of the survey, published today, reveal that while most respondents (55%) recognise environmental sustainability as a business priority and an existential risk (51%), there is confusion about how to communicate targets and initiatives externally.
Half of the respondents said they fear their company or client being accused of greenwashing by consumers if they publish communications leading on sustainability. A key problem is the fact that 40% of marketers admit to not having qualifications relating to communicating sustainability.
The publication of the survey results comes shortly after the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) released its ‘Green Claims Code’ – a set of guidelines for businesses with consumer-facing products and services. Its recommendations include accuracy of claims; clarity of claims; claims that do not omit important information; claims that enable ‘fair and meaningful comparisons’ and other aspects.
The CIM’s marketing director specialising in sustainability, Gemma Butler, said the organisation welcomes the CMA’s moves and is encouraging marketers not to “shy away” from communicating clients or employers’ progress and pledges as a result.
Butler said: “If anything, it should encourage them to upskill immediately, so they have the tools and knowledge to feed into effective sustainability-led organisational strategies - after all, the environmental challenge will only get worse if we don’t start taking decisive and collaborative action to change the path we are on.”
The CIM also conducted a separate survey, with 2,000 UK consumers, to garner their views on sustainability-related marketing.
Almost two-thirds of the respondents to that survey (63%) said they would like to see brands increasing communications around the environmental impacts of their products, services and operations. In other words, most people want more information rather than less.
Among those aged 18 to 34, 59% cited sustainability as a key differentiator when choosing between products and services, claiming that they’d choose the option from the brand with clearer communications.
However, the survey also revealed widespread scrutiny of environmental claims from brands. 63% of all respondents said they think brands are saying they’re taking steps to improve their impact on the planet for commercial reasons only, rather than making holistic changes in-house because it is the moral and ethical thing to do.
This is perhaps to be expected, given the regularity with which corporate sustainability claims are debunked by NGOs and investigative journalists. Companies to have been called out in recent months include Amazon, over the wasting of unsold goods; major airlines, over lobbying against stronger climate policies; and Tesco, over its sourcing of deforestation-linked soy for animal feed.
A sweep of corporate websites by the CMA this January found that four in ten are providing misleading information on environmental issues. A similar study from the Changing Markets Foundation found that 60% of the environmental claims of large British and European fashion brands could be classed as "unsubstantiated" and "misleading".