The rise of greenwashing discussion & scrutiny in the media

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Greenwashing discussion graphic

If you’re a PR or comms pro, you’ll already know that environmental sustainability has become a central part of corporate strategy, building brand reputation, and the media landscape. As the appetite for green news has increased, so has the dramatic rise in greenwashing discussion and accusations across the mainstream and social media. This has left comms professionals nervous about how to best communicate their environmental goals and initiatives – how can it be done without attracting greenwashing scrutiny?

In this four-part blog series, we’ll be discussing how the greenwashing discussion has evolved across mainstream and social media, and what you can do to successfully communicate your environmental credentials and gain a competitive advantage in an era of greenwashing backlash.

The rise of greenwashing discussion and the backlash

With the media hungry for environmental news in recent years, there was a soar in green PR and businesses started to speak loudly about their environmental sustainability initiatives. And while many brands have a genuine desire to tackle climate change and help the planet, they’re also driven by the understanding that it makes commercial sense to start playing their part. Particularly with the growth and financial success of green brands becoming more apparent.

This has led to skepticism among journalists and other stakeholders as to whether brands have been leading with profits or purpose in mind. You could argue that it’s unimportant if companies are moving in the right direction. But stakeholder skepticism, coupled with the desire for media exposure, laid the foundations for growing corporate greenwashing discussion and accusations across mainstream and social media. The consequences of which have been reputationally and financially damaging. Not to mention a crisis minefield for PR and comms teams to manage.

As you’d expect, large companies and well-known brands have been the main “victims” of corporate greenwashing accusations, given their public visibility, often accused of deliberately misleading consumers about how green they are. But smaller businesses aren’t immune and have been targeted too.

The global greenwashing discussion doubled every year

Our analysis shows that the volume of discussions relating to greenwashing across mainstream and social media has doubled every year over a three year-period (November 2019 to September 2022). That’s right, doubled! Clear proof that greenwashing’s a topic that’s not going away and that environmental sustainability needs to be a key part of your comms strategy moving forward.  

Looking more closely at the data, it’s unsurprising that COP26 caused a spike in the discussion, with Twitter being the channel where most chatter was identified. 

All this points to a vital need for comms teams to monitor how these discussions change, both in real time and by looking at wider trend data to help shape short-term activity and longer-term planning. 

graph showing volume of greenwashing discussion

In our next blog post, we’ll be sharing in-depth media analysis which shows how the greenwashing discussion is evolving across mainstream and social media and how that impacts you as PR and comms pros.

But if you don’t want to wait, you can read our full media analysis, now, inside our latest whitepaper: ‘Building brand reputation in an era of greenwashing backlash’. You’ll have access to the full media analysis and learn how you can optimize your comms strategy and planning to succeed in a time of increased greenwashing scrutiny.

In collaboration with Digimind.