Following on from my earlier post, here are some Easter-tide thoughts on 10 steps towards absolving a business from the 'Six Sins of Greenwashing'TM (TerraChoice):
1. Let's audit what you say about your business at the moment, looking at the whole life cycle of what you do/produce and how you do it. Also what you don't say. There may be more that you could be celebrating than you realise, and there is some great advice out there from organisations like Futerra on 'words that sell' and how to make your green news even more compelling.
2. Let's find the proof. If you haven't done this already, let's pull in the experts to measure what you do to protect or improve the environment. As the old adage says, you can't manage what you don't measure. The greater the value being placed on a claim the more robust the verification needs to be. (Actually, it is now arguable that all PR professionals should demand to see the evidence up front before setting pen to paper. If clients have not yet started the process of gathering evidence, then that press release should probably be shelved for a while. Green stories need to be told, but given the media and society's scrutiny these days, and the vitriol poured upon anyone accused of greenwash, this will soon become the only way to protect our clients' reputations and ensure that green claims don't come back to bite later).
3. Let's talk about why you do it. Be honest. Are environmental claims required simply as part of your competitive language (in which case, proceed with the utmost caution and strategic clarity), or because they are at the heart of your brand values (in which case let's find even better ways to show it)?
4. Let's look again at where you do it. Can your carbon-cutting activities be extended further throughout your business or supply chain maybe? Is the whole house in order? If not, why not? (You'll be asked that question by a journalist).
5. Time for a quick calculation - do you put more money, time and energy into promoting your sustainability credentials than you actually invest in the activities themselves? I'm not looking for any client to reduce its fees on PR of course! But we will challenge any client to consider whether the balance is always quite right.
6. Let's check how your stakeholders are responding. Do they see your activities as spin or as genuine commitment?
7. Let's communicate the journey, not just the end result, and if necessary find suitable words for an act of contrition. Warn the Board. As Nick Reilly has pointed out, moving to a genuinely positive attitude towards improving the sustainability of your business may mean you will need to confess to a recent change of attitude - perhaps even leaving you at a competitive disadvantage for a while. But this will set you upon a new base from which you can build with confidence and integrity and outstrip your competitors.
8. Let's get clear on the correct use of language. The media can itself be very lazy using fluffy terms like 'eco-friendly' and 'sustainable', but we need to work together to improve accuracy in our words (and our pictures too). 'Zero carbon' will hopefully be defined by this summer, so that should make life easier. 'Carbon neutral' is also being defined at the moment - a little-publicised consultation by DECC should help sort this out by October 09 latest.
9. Let's follow the CIPR guidelines and its 10 practical tips for any green PR campaign. Also be aware of the forthcoming update of Defra's Green Claims Code.
10. Finally, let's all just slow down a bit. In the current green goldrush, it's very easy to get swept along with enthusiasm, make mistakes or over-claim when we're in a hurry. Most greenwash is not caused by malice, but comes as a result of moving too fast, without enough strategic thinking or attention to detail. "Slow down to live a good life", as a Zen master somewhere is bound to have said...