Consumers are demanding eco-friendly products and services, and studies increasingly show that they are willing to pay more for them, too. With this surge in demand for sustainability, it’s tempting for companies to over-state the sustainability of their products. When they do, they are doing something called “green washing.”

Greenwashing refers to the practice of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about a company’s environmental practices. Indeed, 68% of executives admit that their companies are guilty of doing it.

But consumers are becoming increasingly aware of greenwashing, especially when it comes to paper-based products such as direct mail, marketing collateral, and paper-based packaging. Nearly two-thirds (61%) believe that “go paperless, go green” claims are really about saving money; and 88% of Gen Zs say they don’t trust any of the brands’ environmental claims. When consumers see greenwashing, it can backfire by eroding trust.

How can you avoid greenwashing?

  1. Be transparent. Be clear and transparent about your sustainability practices. Don’t overstate and don’t under-state. Be accurate. When possible, support your claims with reliable scientific evidence.
  2. Avoid trigger words. When discussing environmental hazards, be careful about using terms that perpetuate misinformation. For example, “deforestation.” While this is a favorite word in the greenwashing world, the reality is that, here in the United States, forest products (including paper) don’t contribute to deforestation. In fact, nearly two-thirds of U.S. forests are commercially owned, and when the owners allow sustainable forestry in order to generate revenue, this actually protects forests from development.
  3. Back up your claims. Avoid making sweeping statements without concrete actions to back them up. Put numbers to your efforts, if you can. If you say you plant one tree for every product purchased, tell customers how many trees you’ve planted so far.
  4. Third-party certification. Seek third-party certifications from reputable organizations that validate your sustainability claims. Certifications lend credibility and assure consumers that your practices have been independently verified.

We all want to take good care of the world we live in, but it’s important to be truthful and accurate. By steering clear of greenwashing and embracing authentic sustainability marketing, businesses can not only make the planet a healthier place, but build customer trust and loyalty, too.