Going green? Avoid ‘greenwashing’


July 23, 2019



When customers see your marketing pieces that say your company is “eco-friendly,” “natural,” “Earth-friendly” or “green,” are you living up to their expectations? If not, you may be inadvertently guilty of what is known as “greenwashing.”

First, realize these types of terms and images have no legal meaning. Without a true legal definition, companies can make a variety of claims without specific, measurable standards. More specifically, these terms and images are subject to one’s interpretation. What green means to your customer may not be what green means to you. If you are not careful, you can put yourself on a slippery greenwash slope.

How to avoid greenwashing

It’s important to know what your customers expect from your green-based services. It’s one thing to say you offer green pest control services, buts it’s truly another to deliver certified green services. Do the customers who express an interest in green services know precisely what your green services entail?

Consider this:

  • Company A uses a traditional pesticide to treat the exterior of a home with a manual sprayer, performs one service visit and resolves the pest problem with one treatment.
  • Company B uses all-natural products, a gas-powered sprayer, and treats the home three separate times — three independent service visits to the home in a gas-powered service vehicle.

Which of the two examples is the better option when assessing the green value of the overall service?

You should analyze various aspects of service programs, and evaluate how they are conducted and how they are marketed. In your green program, review all the procedures, equipment (gas vs. electric vs. manual sprayers), the amount and types of materials used, and the environmental impact (the service trips in the gas-powered vehicle vs. a hybrid vehicle, for example).

Each of these elements needs to be broken down into a subset to evaluate the ecological impact. You can’t assess your green services in a vacuum. You need to separate each piece and appraise the overall environmental impact.

3 types of customers

For the purposes of this discussion, there are three basic pest control customer types:

  1. Customer I truly cares about the environmental impact of the pest control service. They are OK with spending a little more money, and understand that the service may need to be applied multiple times and/or take longer than other methods to achieve the desired pest threshold.
  2. Customer II likes the idea of going green, but wants the pest problem resolved now. These customers are OK with the service costing more money, but are unwilling to wait for results. They want the pest problem solved with one visit.
  3. Customer III doesn’t figure green into the equation, other than the color of money. These customers want the pest problem resolved as fast as you can get a service technician out for as little cost as possible.

The main differences among these customers is their levels of expectation. You can’t sell one service, then perform another, especially when providing green pest control services. Some customers do care, and want that additional information about your services so they can make an intelligent choice on what is best for them. They may even shift from one category to another, based on their financial situation and urgency of the problem.

Marketing best practices

When reporting, publishing and discussing your green services, be transparent and direct with your marketing materials. Explain exactly what your services entail, and what the customer should expect after the treatment. Try to avoid using the broad green buzzwords to make your services seem better than they are. (See box at right for a checklist on how to factually market your green service.)

Avoid vague and unspecific terms. Hard facts and realistic expectations will keep you on the best path to avoid overstating your services. Provide supporting documentation — provable data — that supports your services as marketed. Most importantly, don’t inflate your service intentions.

Avoid self-made green labels/seals. Instead, obtain green seals that are issued and awarded by neutral third parties after the neutral party has reviewed and certified your services.

Do any of your marketing materials depict natural scenes? That is, do the graphics or images portray that the service you provide is native? If you have taken the extra steps to have your service programs certified, check with those agencies on the proper way to market your certified green service programs.

Whether you’re providing services to homes, schools, commercial buildings or other accounts, you need to be conscious of both your marketing and your customers’ expectations. Every potential new account is going to have site-specific requirements, too. The illusion of greenwash pest control can be a difficult one to shake, but if you simply focus on honesty, integrity and communication with the customer, you can truly “go green” with great success.

MADDEN is president of Tinton Falls, N.J.-based AviAway Bird Control Services, which provides bird control services and consulting throughout the United States and Internationally. He may be reached at brett@aviaway.com.

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