How to see through the growing band of eco marketing fraudsters

14 August 2022 | 3 min read | ESG
Portrait photo of Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

Last month, Bloomberg reported that Asos, George at Asda, and BooHoo are all to be investigated by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) to “scrutinise their ‘green’ claims”. At the same time, H&M, the world’s largest fashion retailer, is currently facing legal action for falsely promoting some of its products as being sustainable.

These are not isolated examples. Marketing fraud, which is what this is, has been on the rise for more than two years as brands seek to exploit consumer interest (which leads to demand) in sustainability and responsible business. And they’re prepared to promote false narratives in a bid to generate more sales and drive profits.

In fact, in 2021, the CMA published a report stating that 40 per cent of environmental claims made by UK brands and businesses are inaccurate. Put another way, they’re full of sh*t. So, if you are looking to choose a new supplier that is both socially and sustainably responsible, how can you know for sure they’re the genuine article and that you’re not being greenwashed by their ESG communications?

Look for stamps of approval: Any business can say what the hell they like about themselves with their ESG comms, but third-party endorsement from ‘approval’ organisations adds a huge dollop of credibility. So, look for those who have gained B Corp certification (like us… just saying, in case you’re looking for a new PR firm!), Faitrade, Carbon Trust Standard, Rainforest Alliance Certification, Soil Association Organic Standard, or BREEAM for example.

Ask questions: If the hyperbolice ESG comms emanating from a business or brand lacks any real substance, just ask the company to share what they are doing to be a better business. If they respond with a load of fluffy nonsense and a lack or anything tangible to hang a hat on, this is a sure sign of a company that’s probably jumping on the green bandwagon to seduce you into parting with your cash.

Use your nouse: Seeing a product or service supplied at what you consider to be a knocked-down price should ring alarm bells. If deemed too cheap compared to the market rate, chances are that elements of the product are shipped from halfway across the world, or that the people putting it together or providing the service are not being paid a fair wage. Be wary, be curious, but don’t be cheap.

One final thought, and this relates specifically to choosing a new PR agency partner: be inquisitive. Like every other sector of the economy, the PR industry has not been immune to a growing number of suppliers eager to exploit the rising trend for ESG communications.

Ask questions of your preferred PR partner; get them to evidence their green and purpose credentials that they talk so boastfully about with their ESG communications and insist that they demonstrate the impact that their environmental and social initiatives are having. If they struggle in any of these areas, then continue with your search.