Who Do You Trust? Greenwashing and Corporate Sustainability | Intel Technology
(upbeat music) - [Voiceover] You are watching InTechnology, a videocast where you can get smarter about cybersecurity, sustainability, and technology. Here are your hosts, Tom Garrison and Camille Morhardt. - Hi, and welcome to the InTechnology podcast. I'm your host, Tom Garrison, and with me today, as always, is my co-host Camille Morhardt. And today we have Caryn Herder-Fritz who is the Intel Sustainability Initiative Lead in Cross-Intel Marketing Initiatives Group. She is a big believer that marketing can be a business asset when teams understand a customer's mindset and focus on where brand can deliver value.
So welcome to the podcast, Caryn. - Thanks Tom. Great to be here. - Camille and I are excited about this topic, because it is the topic we want to tackle today is what in the industry is called greenwashing. And before we go too far into the specific topic at hand, I think it probably makes sense to talk about some of the challenges that a company has when they are trying to position themselves in the industry across all of the other people that are out there talking about the great things that they're doing for sustainability.
What are some of the challenges that companies face in order to tell their story out to customers? - The big challenge is what you just said, there's a sea of sameness, because we've lived in this world of reporting our corporate activities for the past decade or so. That's where every company has lived. And then we started taking more goals and then we started talking about the goals. But that's the big challenge is everyone's talking about the same things. And so when we try in marketing to find that effective differentiation, it's a struggle.
It's a real struggle. And yet it's an opportunity if we focus a little bit and make sure we stay out of the greenwashing conversations because honestly, that's where the whole market is right now is really skewing to that, the greenwashing goal hype, so to speak. - From your perspective, in your role, what is it that customers are looking for in terms of messages from their perspective suppliers and whatnot? Like what are the things that do matter that you find are important for us to be able, when we're telling our story, that we wanna make sure we include that in our positioning? - What matters to a consumer is different than what matters to someone that's working in healthcare, that matters to someone that's working in an industrial manufacturing scenario. That's the challenge for us, is we need to understand what people value, not just what their companies are asking them to do, because that's important, we need to understand what their goal is, but we also need to understand their values.
And everyone is an individual that is bringing their personal values into their role at work and in their, you know, consumer lives. So the values are the why behind the what. And so when we understand how people are prioritizing sustainability and what parts of sustainability are important to them and then you combine that with, well, what's their company asking them to do for their jobs? That's the sweet spot.
And that's what they want to hear is that a company understands their thinking, understands what they need to accomplish, but also can go on that journey with them and help them push things forward, because many times a lot of our customers in companies, they're pushing this ball up the hill by themselves, because there aren't any department or company mandates yet. So they're bringing that value in and they're trying to bring sustainability, you know, grassroots in the company. So it's when we understand the complete person and what they're trying to accomplish, that's when we win. - So I wanna know how you spot greenwashing, like when you're reading through a report or on a website, what kind of thing do you keep an eye out for that lets you decide when to be suspect? - There's a range of greenwashing and that's what, you know, Gartner has created a tool to actually help people understand, because just because something is legal, it could still be greenwashing.
Because as I said, we're moving out of that reporting world into the marketing world, now there's new rigors with FCC and such that it cannot be misleading. While it might be true, it could still be misleading. And then once again, the last final mile in a greenwashing hurdle is, is it important to the customer? Because we're seeing research now that will show out of the UK, Wort just did a study, 81% of all company sustainability environmental effort communications, 81% are not trusted by the audiences, because everyone is saying all of this stuff. They don't, when everyone is saying the same thing, no one is saying nothing. I mean, no one is trusting any of it. Trust is this huge factor.
And part of the trust issues are coming with all of the media coverage around the fraud in the marketplace, you know, from buying carbon offsets. And, you know, the realities of there's only so many renewable energy credits that are can be purchased, you know, in certain countries and like consumers and our very critical IT buyers, they know what's going on out there in the world. Someone had estimated it's gonna take three planets to deliver all of the carbon offsets that companies are promising with all their goals. Three planets.
- Before we get too far down the topic of greenwashing and the impacts and whatnot, I do think it's important for maybe some people that have heard the term, but aren't really familiar with what is it. Can you give your definition of what greenwashing is? - Greenwashing is making a claim around a environmental product or activity that can be misleading within a consumer or a, you know, end buyer's mind. There's a new kind of greenwashing that is coming up that the experts are talking about and it's just picking the absolute wrong claims in the first place. And that once again is just missing the customer's values and talking to customers about environmental claims that don't matter to them.
So there's a spectrum of this term greenwashing. And I'd also offer, there's another term that's come up that we really do care about, and it's called graywashing. And because we're also concerned about greenwashing, we move to the point where we're using our legal teams as the backstops to say, "Is this message legal?" Like, "What's our risk in saying this?" Without understanding the customer connection. So then it becomes this law message in the market and that's where all marketers should be concerned is taking it to the extreme that we wanna make sure it's so true that it lacks any inspiration, any creativity, any motivation. And that's a challenge for all of us marketers is to make sure we don't fall in the graywashing space. So we've got a greenwash spectrum and we also have this other other path we could go down that makes the message so rigid that no one's gonna care about it.
- To Camille's earlier question, isn't it true like your antennas should be on high alert when you're hearing something that just sounds too good to be true or the best or the first or the whatever, those sort of superlative statements around anything sustainability related, is that not just the area that you should be looking out for? - Absolutely. I would also offer just the word green is another area to look out for, because green has an instant connection. People, mostly consumers, will connect it to the environment, but green also triggers in people's mind greenwashing. There's another green product again. You know, so all of a sudden the green, even that word, has the same effect of those superlatives you're talking about.
- Are there any guardrails or guidelines that can help people in marketing stay between greenwashing and graywashing? So for example, stick to your knitting. Like if you are in manufacturing, you should really be addressing sustainability or actions within the context of manufacturing. Or if you're in retail, you should be addressing them from the context of retail rather than say trying to talk about sustainability or initiatives in a much broader capacity or scope. - They're saying the same things, that they all have net zero goals, they're all, you know, using renewable electricity, they're all looking for, you know, zero waste to landfill, and they're all working on water overall. These are things that we found, you know, in our discovery and in ongoing research.
They're table stakes. And we're just looking, everyone talks about them. And that's where when everyone talks about them, then once again for marketers, we want differentiation. That's hard.
That's a hard place to live, because it's been expected of companies. So your point as far as sticking to your knitting, absolutely, we are seeing the research and we tested some of our messaging where we tried to go beyond the world of compute. And quite honestly, we got put back in a box of stick to what you guys can own, what you can do, because this is such a big problem that you can't. No one company can go tackle this whole thing, right? And technology has a place in combating climate change, but it's not the only thing that needs to happen, right? We need a lot of investments, we need new fuels, we need, you know, new food sources and such.
It's not all tech. Technology is a big player in solving climate crisis, but it's not the only one. So in our test, the believable messages were the ones that were grounded in our subject matter expertise of computing. So when we combine computing with the environment and our work and the environment, those are believable.
- There's an analogy over on the performance side with benchmarks and so the world sort of knows now that companies that have new technology products or whatever, they come to market, they've become sort of leery about performance claims because of some benchmark, this benchmark or that benchmark, because companies have exploited a particular performance characteristic of a particular benchmark and you get this fantastic result. But when you look at it more broadly, like a person would actually use the device, the performance maybe doesn't measure anywhere close to those kinds of results. And on the sustainability side, because there isn't a real holistic way to measure sustainability and whatnot, that you get companies that just talk about small bits of the total story and they try to blow it out and make it seem like the most important aspect or whatever to make themself look great. But that it is, in and of itself, misleading and it doesn't really tell the story.
And for customers, they're not experts themselves so they just don't believe anybody. Is that kind of part of the problem? - You're spot on. And when you pick that wrong small thing to blow up and it is not what the customer values, then it's a double hit. "You are greenwashing because you don't wanna talk to me about what I really care about. You don't have what I care about or you just don't wanna talk to me about it."
So it's a fine line. Can we make some things matter to people if we believe that small thing is so important? That you have to overcome, you've gotta change thinking, you have to change status quo, that takes more time. - Where are we as an industry in being able to talk about the whole story in a way that is, I want to use the word standardized, but there's a sort of an understood, you know, complete story or accounting.
When you think about sustainability, there's a way to talk about it so that when somebody says, "I deliver X value in sustainability," there's a framework by which you can understand what is it that they're talking about. Without that today, it just feels like people can just sort of spray and pray when it comes to claims and just hope that one of those claims sticks that people care about. - Exactly, and that's why our industries are trying. The semiconductor industry is working together.
They're launching a consortium to, you know, can we really work on how we measure scope 3 collectively as an industry and tackle it. In the ICT industry, you know, there's work going on with MIT to try to get to how do you measure product carbon footprint? I know we're working with other industry consortiums, because there do need to be those industry standards and all of the industry players need to participate in creating those standards. Then on the other end, we've got our governments that are also saying, yeah, how do you have an apples-to-apples comparison on anything? And most of that's grounded right now in the investment world because ESG investing has taken off and it's really hot, yet no one can really understand if any of these funds are performing. So that's why a lot of the government regs are coming in because they wanna see apples-to-apples reporting.
And I think when we get to those worlds, Tom, it will kind of level set some of that and will take away a little of the greenwashing, but then once again, we still have to bring that rigor back in to, "All right, but let's make sure we're messaging the things that customers really care about and that they value." Then, you know, you can break through as long as you're telling that story credibly. Like it's an equation that we always have to think about. And the credibility and authenticity always has to be on the checklist. So that's where Camille, we're making a greenwashing toolkit to guide all of our content creators that's based on at Gartner is giving toolkit out there in the world that will give people a checklist and understand the spectrum of greenwashing and where a message is comfortable living. And we have to think about it.
There is much more rigor when we're marketing sustainability than in when we're just communicating and reporting it. We got that one more level of step here where it's got to connect with the audience. - As we get more and more standardized or at least generally accepted frameworks in our metrics around sustainability, how do you think companies are going to differentiate? Is it going to be just a question of how far are you, how close are you, say, to net zero? And one company is further or less far than another? Or do you see companies trying to set up different kinds of metrics so that they can measure themselves or differentiate themselves relative to another company rather than going toward that baseline? - I think it's both, because you do have to show that you are collaborating, that you're an active participant in the world, not just within the industry, but as a multinational company. You know, all of our stakeholders expect us to be an active global participant in the communities in which we operate as well.
So they're looking at activities, we can differentiate there. But it also has to be on product. And it still goes back to what products the customers need. And that's where we're still trying to understand what's the tipping point of when customers will put "green," as you would say it, as the number one purchase driver versus right now, it's an and. It's a, "Great, you know, if you meet all my other criteria and it's green, wonderful." But consumers, they haven't been paying for this for over a decade, you know? And Bill Gates talks about the green premium.
And that, you know, we have to understand where that green premium value is or are we gonna be that, you know, one of those companies, there's many of them are saying, "We're gonna take cost out of this as well, right? Because the planet just needs this." And that's what we're hearing from a lot of the consumers are they expect all of these products to be environmentally sustainable, but they don't want to have to pay more for it. They believe that's how every product should be. Once again, like that's the value system that they have right now.
So it's kind of interesting on everyone doesn't really understand when it will tip to be that people will pay for it. And I think a lot of people and a lot of companies are doing a lot of research around that to try to predict. And I just think today's economic environment puts a little hitch in, you know, trying to figure that out. - So Caryn, I'm curious for people that are trying to market for their own company or maybe they're a consumer looking in technology and they're trying to get smarter on these sustainability claims and what matters, what doesn't matter, those kinds of things. Is there a place that they can go to, to get smarter, to get help in this space? - You know, Tom, unfortunately, there's no one place and there's no set standards.
So you can get smarter on one topic, but it's still not going to be comparable, you know, help them compare in their shopping, because we don't have those set standards. But there are webinars on this topic daily almost. If you wanna learn about the subject of, you know, the broader ESG investing, there's those types of webinars with Bloomberg and Reuters and there's climate tech and learning about all the new inventions that are going on to try to remove carbon from the planet. There's all kinds of content.
This is the best part, the media's covering it everywhere. The conundrum is how do you filter that to help you make a buying decision? And right now, consumers, as I just encourage everyone, go and make sure that the brand you're buying from are actually acting, not just talking, but they're walking the talk. Try to unpack and look at what they're actually doing. And that will help you determine whether that's a brand you want to give your money to.
- I'm thinking back, one way to check on this is through reports. I'm thinking about security right now and how even though there's not a lot of agreed upon standards globally or measurements, one thing that's become more and more common is actually for companies to report. So they're saying what they believe is important and then they're reporting how far along they are against their own deliverables or their own metrics. So you can at least decide for yourself whether you agree with their metrics from the get-go and then you can see how far along they are in implementing to those. And I'm wondering, is that something that's relevant in the sustainability space also and how common is that now? - Over 80% of corporate enterprises are reporting at this point in time. You know, they're either an ESG report or a CSR report, corporate social responsibility report.
Some companies actually issue separate environment reports. So those reports do give a great window into the goals and the progress against the goals. I still encourage people to unpack a little further and just go on their websites to look for different videos and other different, you know, like show. Like we show the actual water restoration projects, you know, so people can understand, no, we're really working in India. We're really working in these other communities that we're operating in because just the report sometimes doesn't make a connection for someone because you're reporting for a governance and customers are still looking for deeper connections. - Well, and I think that also people don't necessarily have a full comprehension of what does it mean for a product from a given company.
For example, we've talked about this before from Intel where Intel is one of the few companies that does everything, from designing the chips, to building the factories that those chips get built in, we build the chips themself, and then we sell them out to our customers. There's really very, very few people in the world that do that. Most people that build chips, and of course that's our business, so that's why we know a lot about it, they design their chips and then they give it to somebody else to manufacture for them.
And so when that company reports, like the activities that they're doing and whatnot on their chips, they're really telling the story about a piece of the puzzle as opposed to the entirety of, "Oh, you know what? When they hand it off to that other manufacturer, that other manufacturer is a very dirty manufacturer." Of course they're never gonna tell you that, right? And so there's that understanding of, again, what does it take to build a complete product as opposed to the little piece of the pie that a company would be inclined to share that may not, you know, tell the whole story. - Great point, Tom.
And I think also that we go the extra mile in the reporting to try to even, you know, we're reporting on how our products are used. We don't have complete control over how a consumer is using that laptop, but we're modeling it out and we are trying to think about our carbon footprint across the products. We're a company that's taking it incredibly seriously in trying to think about that entire product footprint. - Well that's kind of another interesting thing you bring up or I think maybe, Tom, you brought up, benchmarks and how they can be exploited in the sense that companies can work very, very hard to blow away the benchmark, but if they're not also doing that within a context of a reasonable workload, then you're getting kind of a skewed perspective.
So it sounds like that's another way that we can start looking out for greenwashing is making sure that when companies are putting forward the activities they're doing, it's within an actual use case that we might encounter and how well is the activity or the sustainable activity running in these conditions that are gonna be common in that industry or in that company, for example. - Exactly, and that's where I'm hoping that the market really gets to when we get to industry standard, you know, product carbon footprints. And that they'll also include the second life of that product as well. As more and more of the hardware will get reused in a second life, that also attributes to that whole carbon footprint. So I think those are the things that our industry's tackling and hopefully, we'll get there to help people think about that entire life cycle.
- Well Caryn, it feels like we could go on and on on this topic 'cause there's so many things to talk about. Like we haven't even talked about second life, but of course it's another whole topic in and of itself. But I think it was a great first step to have the conversation about greenwashing. And hopefully, we raise the awareness, at least in the listeners, of what to look out for and what to be careful about.
So thanks for your time, it was a great topic, and maybe we'll have you back in the future - Nice talking with you guys. (upbeat music) - [Voiceover] Never miss an episode of InTechnology by following us here on YouTube or wherever you get your audio podcasts. - [Voiceover] The views and opinions expressed are those of the guests and author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Intel Corporation.