Green business initiatives: communication strategy or ecological approach?

January 6, 2021

It is one of the biggest political and governmental issues of recent times: the environment. Regularly featured in the headlines, in all political campaigns; not to mention at many family gatherings.

Because many consumers are now aware that companies must be transparent and promote their sustainable development initiatives. However, opportunistic organisations have also embraced the green trend in order to carry out communications and marketing campaigns, or even completely overhaul their identity for ‘greener’ positioning – so-called "green marketing". When reality or actions don’t correspond to claims it is known as "greenwashing". Other companies, with better intentions, have taken action to offset their CO2 emissions; but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and sometimes initiatives prove to be unsuccessful or counterproductive - here are two examples:

 

"Let's plant trees, it's good for the planet"

Very trendy in recent years, this approach involves brands planting trees for each purchase in order to compensate for deforestation. However, these mass plantings can turn out to be a real disaster for ecosystems when they do not use indigenous trees (that is, trees specific to a geographical location). Organisms have gone on to create new, little or no, diversified cultures, the negative effects of which have been observed in China. Indeed, a local programme called “China’s Grain-for-Green Program” undertook a monoculture plantation which quickly caused a loss of biodiversity with the disappearance of birds and bees, as Nature.com relates. The repercussions would have been quite different if the programme had opted for mixed forests. In conclusion, these monocultures have no advantage for wild flora, which is generally fragile since it is vulnerable to the same diseases, insects and bad weather.

Moreover, non-profit organisations, in a hurry to accomplish their missions, sometimes plant trees in non-forest areas, thus unbalancing native ecosystems (that is to say, species that evolve naturally in given areas). The consequence is dramatic as a range of wildlife species are threatened by these changes. Generally, reforestation is a good idea, but it shouldn't be done at all costs, everywhere and by everyone (see Nature: How to plant a trillion trees).

 

"No more synthetic materials: let's use cotton, it's more ecological"

While traditional fashion releases two collections per year, fast-fashion - the ready-to-wear industry characterised by very rapid product line renewal - releases one per week, with fabrics mainly composed of polyester. This man-made fibre, derived from petroleum, contains toxic chemicals that increase pollution of the air, soil and water, right up to the buyer. In fact, with each machine wash, the garment diffuses plastic microparticles into the wastewater.

For a few years now, iconic fast-fashion companies have been developing clothing collections made up of materials supposed to be more responsible and respectful of the environment, thanks to the use of certified eco-responsible cotton. Through this development, brands claim to guarantee better quality products, with the added bonus of a reduction in CO2 emissions during production.

This has brought cotton, made from a plant fibre, back to the fore as a manufacturing material, with eco-responsible qualities attributed to some clothes. However, the production of one kilo of this textile requires 20 thousand litres of water and the use of pesticides and chemicals which can pollute rivers and therefore, ultimately, water resources. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, cotton fabric is not a de facto eco-responsible material, despite the “green” image sometimes attributed to it.

Some brands prefer to hide and to not communicate about CSR actions and ecological approaches for fear of coming under fire from critics and being "bashed", that is to say being subjected to a massive denigration on social networks.mari

Buyers who were once sensitive to marketing messages are increasingly informed and concerned about the provenance and manufacturing conditions of the products they acquire. Therefore, companies today must match their rhetoric and actions in order to resonate with their customers, otherwise they will turn to other products more in line with their personal values. And if, by misfortune, companies are caught, the backlash - or "bashing" – could be highly damaging to their reputation and legitimacy in the sector.

This blog was originally published in French.

 

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