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Greenwashing: How To Retain Customer Trust

We live in an age of information, where everything is accessible at our fingertips and research into the operations of companies is easy to find and discover. Just look to the recent reaction to Seaspiracy (2021), and the outrage that followed in regards to sustainability within the fishing industry. While there have been criticisms and various responses to the documentary since release, the reaction from the general public is clear as day.

Customers hate being misled when it comes to environmental action.

Greenwashing is when a business puts on a guise of being green and eco-conscious through it’s marketing, but doesn’t uphold these values in their actions and practise. While it might come with good intentions from those involved, the harm is apparent and can be absolutely devasting to customers who initially believed they were supporting a business that put ethics front and centre. 

How To Avoid Greenwashing

  1. Back up your claims with stats and figures.

    Transparency has been proven to be a crucial factor in customer purchase decisions, especially for the younger generations. In a 2017 study for Psychology & Marketing, the conclusion was made that Green Marketing without action shattered the trust of customers, especially after they were willing to pay more to support the efforts of environmental action.

    “Research shows that consumers have a negative attitude toward such products and they become concerned about the ethicality of the company when they encounter such products. Both implicit and explicit measures suggest that consumers notice the company's motive behind such practices which, in turn, impacts their price perceptions.”

  2. Avoid being too reactive in your marketing decisions.

    It might be nice to be on top of every trend, but if your business is unprepared, it can come back to haunt you. Prepare ahead of time, and ensure your bases are covered instead of playing into the trends without the research and knowledge to back it up.

    We see nightmare examples of brash marketing decisions all too often, especially throughout social media with there being weekly examples of controversies and brands completely missing the mark. And even then, viral shaming of awful business practises rise to the top of trending in an instant. As you might have seen lately, the biggest example is the image of a ‘paper’ water bottle that was hiding and covering a plastic bottle produced South Korean cosmetics company, Innisfree. 

  1. Speak with and consult with experts in the field.

    Asking questions and planning ahead will only benefit your knowledge and your business overall, there is a lot of information to keep track of especially as the research develops and changes so drastically.

    “Understanding your starting point and plan for progress from here. Consumers, investors, suppliers and employees will appreciate honesty and a plan for progress. Keeping these groups informed as you move through stages of your implementation will build trust and you may well inspire action from others.” - Sarah Whale, founder of Profit Impact.

  2. Celebrate even the minor victories.

    In her fantastic article for Raconteur, Marina Gerner discusses the celebration of small steps in the right direction for sustainability, and how we should be more clear in what we label as Greenwashing. So long as we’re collectively moving forward and creating a better future, we should allow ourselves some time to be proud of what we can accomplish in the short term.

    People increasingly demand that companies make positive changes. The majority (73 per cent) of consumers worldwide say they would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment, according to research by Nielsen. So companies have a huge opportunity to reap the benefits of sustainable business practices.”


Seaspiracy, Netflix. 2021.

Lee, Jeonggyu; Bhatt, Siddharth; Suri, Rajneesh (2017-12-13). "When consumers penalize not so green products". Psychology & Marketing.

“Innisfree forced to clarify ‘paper bottle’ packaging after customer discovers plastic bottle inside” - Accessed 9th April 2021.

“Is greenwashing always a bad thing?” - Accessed 6th April 2021.

Written by:
Sarah Whale, FCCA
Sarah is the founder of Profit Impact, which guides businesses to measure and grwo long-term positive social, environmental and financial impacts. Sarah has over 20 years experience as a senior financial professional as well as a qualified in Cambridge Institute Sustainability Leadership and B Corp Leader.