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Marketing and Comms
Could AI Root Out the Greenwash Marring Sustainability Communications?

It's about to get more costly for companies that exaggerate environmental and social claims in their communications. But what if artificial intelligence could eradicate greenwash forever?

As anyone working in sustainability communications is well aware, the risks associated with greenwashing are multifaceted and go well beyond mere marketing deception. Making wild claims can genuinely hamper sustainability progress, erode consumer trust, undermine regulatory efforts and mislead investors. To foster true sustainability and responsible business practices, there must be a collective effort to expose and curb greenwashing — promoting transparency and holding companies accountable for their environmental claims.

Legislators and advertising standards authorities are only too well aware of this and are imposing stricter regulations on how products and services are marketed. The US Federal Trade Commission’s new guidelines on how brands should use terms such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘biodegradable’ were warmly welcomed. In France, companies can face fines of up to 10 percent of their annual turnover for deceptive environmental marketing; and the UK is set to adopt a similar deterrent. In Australia, consumer protection laws have been strengthened, with the Competition and Consumer Act prohibiting false or misleading representations about environmental benefits.

It's about to get more costly for companies that fall into the trap of over-egging environmental and social claims in their marketing and communications. But what if the answer to eradicating greenwash forever could be solved by artificial intelligence (AI)?

AI is being used to solve all manner of challenges. It is revolutionizing healthcare by improving diagnosis accuracy and treatment effectiveness — IBM’s Watson for Oncology is a great example of how AI can analyze patient data to suggest personalized treatment options for cancer patients. The Nature Conservancy is using it to study satellite data and predict illegal fishing activities to protect marine ecosystems. AI algorithms are scanning social media posts and satellite images to map disaster-affected areas and aid rescue and relief efforts. In cities, AI is helping local authorities become smarter and more efficient, with urban planners using AI simulations to address traffic problems and make the air cleaner. And companies are even using it to craft more effective sustainability strategies.

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Now, a company called Greenifs has come up with a solution that it hopes will enable firms to avoid the common pitfalls associated with greenwashing — using the versatility of AI technology to transform ESG communications.

The platform lets you copy and paste written content into a form (currently limited to a social media post length of characters) and have it scanned by robots for any potentially misleading and unsubstantiated messages. In a matter of seconds, it then creates a fully automated analysis of the content — highlighting where the writing might have veered into greenwash territory. Finally, it serves up a series of recommendations as to where the writer might need to add more information, provide evidence and be clearer in what’s being said.

Image credit: Greenifs

Speaking on Zoom from his base in Lithuania, Greenifs founder and CEO Vytautas Sabaliauskas is excited about the possibilities for his new creation: “We’re taking the human error and human labour out of keeping track of the latest green marketing regulations,” he tells Sustainable Brands®.

He shares his screen so that I can explore the platform. We share a few examples of recent social media posts that have caught our eye and plug them into the platform — changing the region, according to where the business is located; this is a defining criterion that will alter the AI results served up.

As we await the aggregated analysis and recommendations, Sabaliauskas acknowledges that his new product might be somewhat ahead of the legislation. But he is buoyed by the changing regulatory landscape, which has created a gap in the market. Companies could really use his AI tool — as “a lot of money will be burned,” he says. “Brand reputation is very hard to gain; and companies can make simple mistakes. Our AI gives them a second opinion and allows them to understand what might be missing.”

The idea for came while Sabaliauskas was working on other brand projects — and a realisation that there isn’t a single online source of information that highlights companies’ sustainability credentials. There are plenty of rankings and benchmarks, of course; but no one way of exploring or verifying green claims.

“We started playing with AI and wanted to explore where we could have a big impact. We thought that this type of product could be crucial for brands, with big fines coming and the harm that could be done by greenwashing,” he explained.

For all the good AI is bringing to sectors everywhere, there is a risk the technology might fuel certain problems. Could the use of AI in marketing and communications teams actually be contributing to greenwash in the first place?

“We’re not concerned about how companies create their messages; we just want them to make claims they can prove,” says a defiant Sabaliauskas. “AI is there to help — but decisions are still made by people.”

The platform is available to try out — users can analyse five posts as part of a free trial.