I was recently invited to be interviewed by Karen Black on the HubFizz Eco Biz Show: the show where you can get ideas to grow your business and make it greener. We talked all about transparency and authenticity when promoting your brand, also known as not greenwashing. I hope you enjoy reading a few of the key points but do check out the recording of our 10-minute chat here.
Hi Mel, welcome to the HubFizz Eco Biz Show! How did your passion for the ocean come about?
I'm a bit of an outlier in the marine conservation community in that I didn't grow up by the ocean. I was about 20 when I learned to scuba dive. It was when I was on holiday in Australia and I thought I may as well try it. I hated every second of the training. It was awful. And I just gritted my teeth and wanted to get through it. And then as soon as I got in the ocean, it was incredible. It was that very moment that I got bitten by the scuba bug.
So, from there, I started to plan holidays to go diving. I then started writing for a scuba diving magazine outside my day job in PR. And then in 2018, I quit my job, left London and moved to Mozambique to volunteer with a marine conservation charity called MMF. That was a transformative year and was when I officially niched into marine conservation and ocean related comms.
How can businesses be more transparent and authentic when promoting themselves and avoid greenwashing?
I think this is something small businesses especially feel nervous about. It often puts them off talking about the amazing things they are doing because they'll think, “oh, but we haven't reduced our energy consumption as much as we want to yet, or we're not doing this yet. We're not perfect yet.” And I say to people that when it comes to sustainability, we're never going to be perfect.
We need to talk authentically and honestly about where we are and what we’re doing. Sole traders and small businesses can be agile. And if you're leading with your purpose, you're probably less likely to greenwash than a big organisation trying to retrofit sustainability because they think it's going to help their bottom line.
One of the things I recommend people checking out is the Green Claims Code. That's a new marketing code that came out in the UK in 2022 to make sure people aren't misleading customers through their green claims. For example, by exaggerating a claim or saying something that's not quite true.
My advice? Be honest and clear about where you are and where you're going. And don’t be afraid to talk about your challenges, mistakes and what you haven't quite achieved yet.
That's a good tip. I think people are quite nervous about saying things if they’re not doing it perfectly. But, actually, it just shows your human side and your honesty will come across. People can have a conversation about it and help each other out.
It’s probably worth mentioning that when you see brands that get cancelled or accused of greenwashing, usually, it's not what they're doing that's being criticised but the way they're talking about it. For example, they say a product is recyclable but the entire product isn’t. Or they haven’t considered the full supply chain when calculating the carbon footprint of a product. So it's important to think clearly about whether there’s any way you could be misleading people. And if you make a slip up or you decide to do something differently, hold your hands up and explain what you've learned and what you're going to do now, as a result.
That's great advice. The truth will always come out so by saying that this is what I'm doing and it's not perfect but I'm trying to do better, you might then get people offering to help.
How would you suggest businesses can use communications to encourage behaviour change?
Again, it comes back to this reticence to talk about what you're doing. But the more we talk, the better. If you share a challenge with someone, someone else might have had that problem the previous month and be able to help. In the sustainability space, we shouldn't see each other as competitors. We should all be helping each other to make these changes more quickly. That could be from a personal perspective or as a brand.
Another thing for organisations to think about is their tone when talking about sustainability. Your audience might feel guilty that they're not sustainable enough but they might not be able to afford to make any changes. So having a finger-wagging tone (“why are you still doing it this way?”) isn't helpful and often puts people off.
I tend to find it’s best to be open and share what people could do without judgment. For example, on my LinkedIn, I try to talk about the things I'm trying to do to have an impact. I was originally doing it for accountability because I'm a massive people pleaser. But, as a result, there's been a ripple of people saying, “Oh, I didn't know that you could do that. I'm going to make this change too”.
What would you say is your top eco tip?
I think it would be looking at what's the most realistic thing for you to have an impact. When it comes to sustainability, people often say the first step is always the hardest. There's that hesitancy that you can’t start because you’re not perfect. But once you've made one change, you can think about the next one. So, if that first change isn't realistic for your lifestyle, you’re not going to follow through. And then maybe you won’t make other changes. So, think about the one change that could be really easy for you to make. And once you've made that part of your habits, think about the next one. So, my advice would be to think about what’s right for your own situation rather than what people are telling you to do.