Greenwashing is a serious problem facing many B2C businesses. It can be tempting to oversell just how sustainable your business is, but don’t fall into the trap! Your consumers won’t thank you for it and you’ll lose credibility. Instead, take the time to investigate what sustainable practices will work best for your business and make real, lasting change.

We’ve all seen it, we’ve all fallen for it, and we’ve all sniffed it out. Greenwashing. The dubious practice of misleading customers and clients about a business’ sustainable practices. At best, it’s done out of naivety and a lack of understanding of the complexity of sustainability. At worst, it’s an outright lie.

If you’re not entirely sure what I’m talking about, here’s an example:

John owns a beauty salon. He has a sign out the front of his business proclaiming that his salon is eco-friendly. This gets people who want to spend their money somewhere that aligns with their values through the door. There are certain assumptions made about what it means to be eco-friendly.

The reality? John throws all his empty bottles into the curbside recycling without checking whether his local council actually recycle them. Not very eco-friendly after all, is it? This is greenwashing 101. It’s a fundamental mismatch between the expectations the customer has based on the marketing they’ve seen, and the actions of the business.

In this example, John understands that his customers want to spend their money at a ‘green’ business, but he doesn’t want to invest in genuinely sustainable practices. It’s not technically a lie, but it’s pretty far from what his customers assume he is doing to help the environment and his community.

Unfortunately, buzzwords like ‘green’, ‘natural’, and ‘organic’ are not helping this situation. Who defines these words? What do they really mean? While they’re open to interpretation, they are vulnerable to becoming part of greenwashing campaigns.

There are two types of businesses that engage in greenwashing. Those, like John in the example above, who knowingly mislead customers about their business practices, and those who actually do make environmentally conscious changes to their business practices but don’t want to spend time and effort researching how to do so effectively. do so with as low-effort as possible.

Neither is truly acceptable, especially when there are easy, cost-effective ways to make a business more sustainable. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t many businesses doing the right thing. There are, and we’re fortunate enough here at Sustainable Salons to have them in our program and see the difference they’re making.

You’ll likely have seen plenty of greenwashing in the lead up to Earth Day in April. As Earth Day approached, we saw brands spruik their eco-credentials to no end, and unfortunately, a lot of it is greenwashing. So many brands brought out ‘sustainable’ or ‘recycled’ options into an already oversaturated market. The truth (which many brands don’t like to hear) is that sometimes the most sustainable thing to do is adopt a ‘less is more’ ethos.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to offer sustainable services on top of your existing services. All that’s needed is for businesses to start transitioning the services and products they already offer over into greener options. The world doesn’t need another sustainable skincare line. It needs existing skincare brands to commit to sustainability and work towards ambitious goals to minimise waste.

The truth is that there is no one-stop solution that will make your salon eco-friendly overnight. It takes time, research, and dedication to become a truly Sustainable Salon. Find suppliers that align with the values you’re moving towards, join a program like Sustainable Salons and eliminate waste wherever possible and you’ll be on your way.

As service providers, we’re primed to give our customers and clients want they want, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of our integrity. Greenwashing will leave you feeling icky, and it’s a significant reputational risk. Your customers weren’t born yesterday, and they can and will work it out when eco-marketing doesn’t match up with the reality they see in-store.

Instead, show up for the planet and think about how your business can become more sustainable. Becoming a Sustainable Salon is a good start, and once you’ve got the sustainability bug you won’t be able to go back. It’s like putting on x-ray glasses and suddenly seeing all the wasteful practices and unsustainable actions taking place around you. You’ll want to change for the better and live the values your customers expect from you.

And if you’re reading this as a customer, be aware of what kind of messaging is around you. Double-check what businesses are really doing behind the scenes if you feel their marketing doesn’t pass the sniff test. When you do see greenwashing, remember that it may not be intentional. You, too, have a role in educating and changing the face of consumerism for the better.

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