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How Green Businesses Can Avoid Misleading Consumers


By Andrew Meggitt

To environmentally conscious consumers looking to make more responsible purchasing decisions, there’s nothing more frustrating than being confronted with vague or misleading “green” labels. A bottle that reads “100 percent environmentally happy” might trick some consumers into buying it, but it’s going to turn off those eco warriors who see right through the marketing malarkey.

When companies make claims about their environmentally friendly practices that aren’t backed by facts or that are downright false, their credibility takes a hit. And for a business that’s identified as a “green” company, the damage might be irreversible.

But what can well-intentioned business owners do to make sure they avoid the pitfalls of greenwashing?

1. Determine your values and stick to them

If you’re an entrepreneur with socially and environmentally conscious goals for your company, you need to have firm and well-defined values. Are you in business to sell products, to be a better member of the human race, to leave as small of a footprint as possible, or a combination of the three?

Once you figure out what you stand for, you need to be transparent and communicate those goals to potential customers. Tell them how your business practices or products meet those ideals. Be clear, and — as your teachers used to say — show your work. If you make statements about your environmental friendliness, you need to be able to back them up.

2. Don’t be a greenwashing ‘sinner’

UL Environment lists “The Seven Sins” of greenwashing as a way to educate consumers. A report by the authors of “The Seven Sins” revealed that more than 95 percent of consumer products claiming to be “green” were found to have committed at least one of the sins. Even the wine industry is guilty.

Familiarize yourself with the list, and ask yourself whether your claims can be substantiated by readily available information. Also, determine whether your claims really mean something — or whether they’re true of every company.

For example, saying that your product is free of chlorofluorocarbons is pointless because these chemical compounds are banned — all products should be CFC-free. To avoid greenwashing practices, avoid saying anything that could mislead consumers.

3. Seek outside help, and use objective standards

The easiest way to make sure your practices are actually in line with your ideals is to rely on experts and use objective standards. If you’re constructing a new building, bring in an engineer or architect who is certified in Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design — a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices.

If you’re designing a new product, familiarize yourself with the criteria used to evaluate those products. For instance, SMART offers sustainable standards for a wide range of consumer products, including building products, apparel, and textiles. Look at companies you admire, and see what certification programs they use. Once you find guidelines, you can follow them to provide evidence of your sustainability.

Businesses have to make money, but they don’t have to compromise their integrity or the needs of the environment to turn a profit. It’s possible to do well in business and take real steps to make the world a better place. Have you ever bought Seventh Generation cleaning products or Patagonia apparel? Then you’ve supported businesses whose practices align with their marketing.

By engaging in truly sustainable practices and not just paying lip service to the environment, you can boost your business and make a real difference.

Image credit: Flickr/mtsofan

Andrew Meggitt joined the St. James Winery team in 2002 and has been enjoying life in the wine business for over 20 years. A three-year-long travel adventure around the world following university influenced not only his outlook on life, but also his perception of winemaking styles and methodology. Andrew creatively stretches the boundaries of traditional winemaking while integrating both old- and new-world techniques he learned while working in New Zealand and France.

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