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Greenwashing and Ethics in Marketing

We live in troubled times. The threat of climate change and the complexities of modern society have created a wellspring of anxiety surrounding our role as consumers. As such, consumers seeking to balance out their consumption habits have a greater taste for ethical and sustainable products. In fact, more than half of consumers have reported that they would pay more for sustainable products designed to be reused or recycled. Additionally, 92% of millennial consumers said they would be more likely to purchase products from ethical companies*.

Promoting ethical brands and products is vital; it allows individuals to ensure their purchases are supporting their beliefs and helps them navigate the labyrinth of ethical living.

However, the idea of what is classified as ethical is subjective and ethereal. Any organisation can claim that their product is ethical while committing to practices and products others may deem immoral or even abhorrent. There is no one regulatory body that determines whether a brand is allowed to market themselves as “ethical”.

An individual’s ethics surrounding issues like animal agriculture or fossil fuels, conflicting with the broader generalist view of what is ethical, can lead to disputes between consumers and brands that leave the relationship strained and lacking in trust.

Modern audiences are savvy to modern marketing and crave sincerity and authenticity from brands, which makes instances of “greenwashing” incredibly damaging. As such, when putting the “ethical” sticker on your brand or product, it’s critical to commit to this label wholeheartedly.

So, what is the purity test that a brand should pass before giving itself the ethical sticker?

Quite simply: Do No Harm.

If your product is truly ethical, it minimises – and virtually eliminates – all possible harm that could be committed toward any of these three groups:

· People.Avoid any products or components that use unethical labour overseas.

· Animals.Avoid means and products that cause harm to animals. Vegan products are your friend.

· The Environment.Avoid participating in systems that are largely damaging to the environment. Avoid single-use plastic wrapping, deforestation, mining and fossil fuels.

If your brand passes all three gate points of the purity test, then you can and should promote it as an ethical brand. However, there is no grey area; if there is any ambiguity, fix your systems before embracing the title.

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