Several years ago the global PR firm Edelmen published a study which suggested that 73% of consumers would choose to buy from a different brand of equal quality if that brand supported a good cause.

From a business perspective, there are few better causes than “being green.” As well as potentially benefiting from tax breaks or grants and saving money on energy bills, implementing more environmentally friendly business practices can be the stepping stone toward building a more powerful, well-rounded, and attractive brand.

Six pitfalls to avoid:

Developing the environmentally-friendly side of your brand isn’t as straightforward as altering your logo to make it green or making vague promises about cutting energy use and recycling more. But sometimes the best way of learning how to do something is by taking a closer look at what not to do. With that in mind, these are the common pitfalls to avoid when trying to develop the environmentally responsible side of your brand.

1. Relying solely on being green

While it’s great news for the environment that more and more businesses are taking a serious look at how they can be more sustainable, it also means that you can’t hope to stand out from the pack based on your green credentials alone.

Take Ben & Jerry’s for instance. Founded in the 1970s, the ice cream makers wanted to promote sustainable business practices at a time when most businesses believed that turning a profit and being environmentally responsible weren’t compatible. While the business world played catch up, Ben & Jerry’s remained at the forefront of innovation, becoming the first “climate neutral” ice cream maker in 2007.

But simply being green could never have made Ben & Jerry’s as successful as it is today—Ben & Jerry’s is also a fun brand, known for its creative flavor combinations and playful packaging. There’s no mistaking Ben & Jerry’s for other brands—would Haagen Dazs ever have built a Flavor Graveyard?

2. Lacking authenticity

If you or your business has a history of doing the right thing for the environment, being authentic should come as second nature. If, on the other hand, your interest in the environment is merely to build on your brand and increase profits, it will be much more challenging.

Faking authenticity is difficult; so instead, put your effort into finding a cause you feel genuinely passionate about. For example, if you care about poverty, you could support programs that aim to improve fuel efficiency in low-income homes. If food is your true love, you could explore ways to help customers reduce food waste.

While the programs you’ll invest your time, energy, and money into will inevitably be influenced by your industry and existing brand character, there is plenty of space to let your genuine interests guide your actions.

3. Not being relevant

Making your environmental business practices relevant to people’s lives should be simple enough, yet so many companies get bogged down with statistics and percentages and numbers that ultimately mean very little—if anything—to most consumers.

When fabric softener brand Lenor advertised its new concentrated laundry product in the UK, the commercials didn’t focus on the percentage reduction in packaging size or the amount of carbon dioxide saved in the making of each bottle. Instead, the message focused on how switching could benefit the consumer—firstly, if everyone switched, up to 14,000 truckloads could be taken off the road, and secondly, that wash for wash it costs 25% less. Yes, there are numbers, but they relate to tangible things—trucks on the road, money in your pocket—not grams of an invisible gas.

Your customers want to be green, but many of them have conflicting desires like saving money, so don’t be afraid of pandering to your customer’s more selfish needs by communicating why being green isn’t just good for the environment, but also good for them.

4. “Greenwashing”

A company that spends more time and effort portraying itself as environmentally friendly instead of actually trying to reduce its environmental impact is said to be engaging in “greenwashing.” It cheapens your brand, misleads your customers, and does nothing to help the environment.

Customers are savvier than ever, so don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes. To make sure your good intentions don’t inadvertently appear to be greenwashing in practice, avoid making vague statements, back up your claims with evidence when available, and don’t attempt to confuse your customers with jargon. 

5. Forgetting about your customers’ role

The challenge that climate change poses is so big that an international effort is needed to confront it. Those businesses that are truly serious about reducing their environmental impact understand they are only a small part of the solution, and actively encourage their customers to be as passionate as them. 

LUSH cosmetics is a great example of this. Take their approach to packaging: The majority of their products don’t come in any packaging at all—they’re sold “naked.” Those products that are the exception use packaging made from post-consumer recycled waste.

However, LUSH goes a step further by encouraging customers to recycle by offering a free face mask for returning five of the empty black containers the masks are sold in. It’s a reward scheme for customers first and foremost, but it also gets them in the habit of recycling. 

6. Ignoring the experts

Last year, Unilever’s CEO became the first sitting CEO of a major multinational company to win the World Wildlife Fund’s Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Medal. Unilever and the WWF have enjoyed a relationship for decades—in 1996 they jointly established the Marine Stewardship Council to certify and promote responsible fishing practices. 

While you might not be able to work with a renowned global charity like the WWF, there is nothing stopping you from partnering with local organizations or charities to help you deliver and promote sustainable practices.

Does your business make an effort to be green? What tips do you have for entrepreneurs wishing to make their companies more environmentally friendly? Tell us in the comments!

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Tom Young
Tom Young

Since graduating with a marketing degree Tom has been turning his efforts to raising the profile of the UK's newest domestic and business energy supplier GB Energy.