7 tips to communicate your climate strategy without falling into the greenwashing trap


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Your company has adopted a climate strategy. But you’re reluctant to communicate it for fear that your initiatives will be seen as greenwashing.

Indeed, it’s an understandable fear. According to a study by the European Commission, 53% of environmental claims in the European Union are vague, misleading, or unfounded, and 40% are unjustified.

The following 7 tips will help you avoid the greenwashing trap.



1. Avoid vague environmental claims


Your company or product may be sustainable in some respects, but using terms like “eco-friendly” without specifying which aspects are is considered greenwashing. Be as precise as possible in your wording.

For example, if you make children’s toys from recycled plastic, avoid generic terms such as “environmentally friendly”. Instead, be specific in stating that the toys are made from recycled plastic.

Here is a list of words to avoid:

  • green
  • eco-friendly
  • good for the environment
  • sustainable
  • ecological
  • carbon-neutral
  • climate-neutral



2. Don’t use the expression “carbon neutral” in connection with your company.


Instead of saying your company is carbon neutral, use a phrase like “We contribute to planetary carbon neutrality“. Scientifically, companies can’t be carbon neutral.


The IPCC defines carbon neutrality as the situation in which net anthropogenic CO2 emissions are offset on a global scale by anthropogenic CO2 eliminations over the same period.


“Let’s stop with a corporate carbon neutrality that is static and countable, and instead move towards dynamic, collective carbon neutrality. The only carbon neutrality that exists is on a planetary scale.”

Colin Royer, Carbon Expert at Tapio



3. Be as transparent as possible and link to an informative page.


The aim is not to hide anything from your audience, even if this is unintentional. In the case of a carbon report, you should always specify the following characteristics when you want to communicate about it:

  • operational boundaries;
  • eventual exclusions;
  • considered period;
  • scopes.

Instead of saying “Our carbon footprint is 29 tonnes of CO₂e”, be more precise by completing your sentence as follows: “Our carbon footprint in 2023 was 29 tonnes of CO₂e. We have taken into account scopes 1, 2 and 3 for all our sites in Belgium.”

To make it easy for your audience to get informed, always include a link to a web page or document supporting your claims. Make sure these documents are exhaustive but at the same time accessible, with clear explanations for non-experts. Offer a full report as well as a summary that is more accessible to the general public.



4. Don’t use visuals associated with nature


Avoid any illustrations or colors associated with nature (trees, leaves, the color green, etc.) if they are not relevant to your core business. The primary aim of a climate strategy should never be to improve the company’s image.

For example, in the image below, we see a bottle of Coca-Cola Life in a natural environment that has nothing to do with the drink. This type of visual could suggest to the public that the product is healthier or more sustainable than it actually is.




5. Talk about your company’s main impact


In your external communication on climate strategy, highlight your company’s main impacts. Avoid concentrating your communication efforts on trivial aspects of your business, or communicate them in order of priority.
For example, in its communications, Apple has often emphasized the reduction of plastic in its packaging, but the major impact of its products lies in the extraction of raw materials. For more responsible communication, they should instead communicate their efforts to extend the life of their products, which is the most positive action they could take.



6. Don’t talk about future commitments without mentioning the current situation


In your communication, focus on actions already taken or soon to be taken. Highlight your current situation, with its positive and negative points, while outlining your commitments and plan for achieving them. Only after you’ve mentioned all this information can you also mention your commitments for the future. Here, too, it’s important to provide as much information as possible.

Take, for example, a company that wants to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. If it were to communicate only on this commitment, it could be perceived as greenwashing. So mention how you’re going to achieve this goal, saying, for example, “We’ve reduced our business air travel by 80%. This is one of the actions to reduce our carbon footprint by 50% before 2030.”



7. Highlight the positive and negative aspects of your current situation


Talk about the negative aspects to be improved in the near future, as well as the positive ones. This will help build trust and transparency with your audience.

Let’s take the example from the previous paragraph. Your company has reduced its business air travel by 80%. This is a key action in your climate strategy, so you’re very happy to communicate about it. At the same time, you still have a large fleet of petrol-powered company cars, which has a big impact on your carbon footprint. To build trust, communicate this fact. Remember, the audience is not looking for perfection but rather for total transparency from companies.



Is greenwashing deliberate corporate deception?


Many companies, in their communication efforts, have positive intentions but don’t communicate as clearly as they could. They are proud of their sustainability successes and want to share them with their audiences. At the same time, they have invested resources in developing and implementing their climate strategies. By sharing their successes, they want to celebrate their achievements and solicit public support.

However, these good intentions can sometimes lead to misleading communication without you even realizing it. Maxime Van der Meerschen, co-founder of GiveActions, points out that most companies don’t have bad intentions.

“Often companies don’t necesarily want to mislead the consumer. They make sustainability efforts they’re proud of, and they’re keen to get a return, but at the same time they sometimes have a lack of knowledge about what responsible communication is. It’s in this context that we come across cases of greenwashing.”

Maxime Van der Meerschen, Co-Founder of GiveActions




Do you want to start your climate strategy now?