Compared to five years ago, the environment and awareness of the impact of our actions on the environment has slowly made its way onto the national agenda in Qatar. Events like COP18, which was held in Doha in late 2012, have undoubtedly helped.
Whilst awareness is creeping up, there is still a massive distance between awareness, interest, intention, action and advocacy:
Awareness - I am aware on the topic and understand the basic points
Interest - It is a subject that interests me and I consciously seek out further information
Intention - I intend, at some point in the future, to modify my behaviour to minimise my impact on the environment
Action - I live my life in a way that minimises my impact on the environment
Advocacy - I actively try to persuade others to join me in protecting our environment
As marketers the gap between awareness and advocacy presents us with an opportunity, an opportunity to adopt the environment as an engaging CSR pillar and to build powerful programs and campaigns that can have an impact on behaviour. The bigger the problem, the more scope there is for us to deliver tangible, meaningful results. Deliver positive results and we raise our profile with key national stakeholders and we have a positive impact on the brand. Brilliant!
But our advice to any organisation who is currently using or considering the environment as a CSR pillar is to be very careful of straying in to greenwash territory - it's easily done. The environment is a very difficult pillar for most organisation's to credibly adopt as most businesses need to consume resources to make a profit.
What's a greenwash? Greenwash is a term that has been around for more than 20 years, although its prominence has really come to the fore in the last 5 - 10 years. A greenwash is an exaggerated, unsubstantiated or irrelevant environmental claim. Here are some examples of greenwash:
A car maker who claims 'Our new vehicle is eco-friendly'. This statement is pure greenwash, the claims is both unclear, unsubstantiated and exaggerated. A car whether petrol, diesel or electric will always be polluting to some degree. At best the vehicle could be less polluting than rival petrol powered cars. Language like 'eco-friendly' is vague and fluffy, designed to dupe consumers into believing mythical green credentials.
A chemical company that grabs hold of a small, comparatively green attribute 'Company X is saving the planet by reducing paper consumption', whilst its core busy is massively polluting. This is greenwash - the paper consumption claim is like a little silver bell that the company is ringing to divert the publics' attention from the rest of its business.
An AC system manufacturer claiming 'Our AC solution is better for the environment'. With no comparative data for alternatives and also from a sector in which all players have poor environmental credentials, this is greenwash.
So, as you can see adopting the environment as your CSR pillar is not as simple as it may first seem, there are many pitfalls. Greenwash will work for a limited time, but as the public becomes increasingly savvy, organisations engaging in greenwash will ultimately be uncovered and their brands will be punished for it.
The way to avoid greenwash is to ensure your organisation has a comprehensive CSR strategy in place, one that tightly defines the parameters and the framework of your program. It should define the core messages and language of the program. It should define the scope and scale of your program to establish very firm boundaries about how, why, where and when you talk.
khayr , Qatar's first and only ethical communications agency is expert in developing CSR strategies and programs that are relevant and engaging. We can help ensure your CSR program and your brand stay in the limelight and out of the greenwash.