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Commentary & Analysis

It’s working! Our industry’s campaign against the false claims of greenwashing is having an impact. Consumers are starting to see claims like “Go Paperless! Go Green!” as false and misleading, and marketers are changing their tactics.

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: September 18, 2018

It’s working! Our industry’s campaign against the false claims of greenwashing is having an impact. Consumers are starting to see claims like “Go Paperless! Go Green!” as false and misleading, and marketers are starting to back off. Plus, a new analysis tells us that environmental claims are often ineffective anyway.

We’ll start with the analysis, which came from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Like most organizations these days, the CRA wanted to move taxpayers from paper-based communications (in this case, tax filing) to digital. As part of its “nudge” campaign, the CRA used a range of environmental messaging, from no specific environmental messaging to strong environmental messaging, including the promise to plant a tree for each person who switched. The results?  The environmental messaging was no more effective in changing consumer behavior than generic messaging. CRA found that its nudge campaign had only a negligible impact of about 1% increase in online filing.

Two Sides has speculated three reasons for the results:

  1. Consumers do not see paper-based and digital communications as interchangeable.For certain types of communications, many people prefer paper because it is perceived as safer and more trustworthy. Whether that’s true or not, it’s the perception that matters. Plus, we’ve all seen the growing number of studies that show that messaging communicated on paper is more deeply embedded in the brain and more easily recalled than messaging communicated electronically. For certain types of communications, paper just works better.
  2. Consumers increasingly recognize greenwashing claims for what they are—false.Consumers are figuring out that “Go Paperless! Go Green!” is really about companies saving money, not the environment. Frankly, it ticks them off. Eighty-five percent of U.S. consumers now see “Go Paperless” campaigns as just a way for companies to save a buck.
  3. People increasingly understand that digital communications have their own environmental impact.As consumers become more educated about the environmental impact of digital communications, they are also starting to understand that, by moving from paper to digital, they are aren’t benefiting the environment. They are simply moving the environmental footprint from one ledger column to the other.

Two Sides collected a variety of data supporting each of these points—data that goes back a number of years. Consumers are starting to figure this out, and it’s sticking.

Here’s the super cool thing. Two Sides is also reporting that 107 North American corporations, and 275 globally, have now agreed to change their messaging and remove misleading environmental claims to promote digital over paper. Instead, they have committed to focusing their messaging on the convenience and practicality of electronic services rather than green claims.

Keep up the good work, everybody!