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Interbrand: Greenwash is more difficult in social media age

Cars isn’t exactly the first thing we think about when we talk about green, but several automotive brands have continued to top Interbrands’ Best Global Green Brands poll for this year.

The surprise in the 2014 list was Ford which beaten Toyota as the No. 1 brand for the first time since the report started in 2011. Now second place, Toyota is joined by other Japanese car brands Honda, and Nissan. Electronics brand Panasonic, also from the land of the rising sun, completes the top five in that order.

The two brands that showed the biggest improvement from 2013 was Ikea and Zara, which both climbed 14 places to claim the 19th and 34th position, respectively. Brands from the finance industry struggled to stay on the rankings, with Allianz and Citi dropping out.

The Best Global Green Brand report ranks companies based on the effectiveness of their CSR programs and on how the public recognizes those efforts. This is represented by a gap score, which is the difference of their performance score and consumer perception score.

Brands with a positive gap score like poll leader Ford with +3.2, do commendable efforts for social good but could do more to tell people about their commitment. This is the case for all the companies in the top 10, with the exception of Danone (-1.3).

While discreet with showing how committed they are with their advocacies, Jullian Barrans, managing director at Interbrand, believes that the prevalence of positive scores shows a a shift among companies who are now embracing sustainability instead of going green just for show.

“The morality behind why these top brands are doing what they are doing is led by a desire to deliver something that’s green, not by a desire to just be seen as green.”

“The thing that probably increased the most over the last few decades has been giving back to society, helping other people.” he added, speaking in a roundtable held in Manila last week.

Brands with negative gap scores are given more credit than its actions merit, which Barrans shared with Marketing, exposes them to potential problems in the long run, especially now in an increasingly interconnected society.

Interestingly, brands with negative scores include some of the world’s most recognizable brands like Coca Cola (rank 20, -12.2 gap score); Pepsi (rank 30, -2.3 score); Starbucks (rank 37, -2.0 gap score); McDonald’s (rank 43, -14.5 gap score); Apple (rank 21, -1.1 gap score) and Microsoft (rank 41, -9.1 gap score).

To strike a good balance between performance and perception, Barrans recommends backing each story with facts and keeping it authentic, or else risk damaging your reputation once people find they are exaggerating green claims.

“In today’s internet and social media, I think now more than ever, it’s very difficult to lie. Ten to twenty years ago, you can get away with it.”

This demands some level of transparency, but he admits that doing so exposes brands to a new set of risks – risks, Barrans stressed, that can be effectively managed.

“A single comment out there can cancel out a hundred good comments. So you just have to be ready for it. Each company has to have a social media strategy in place. You don’t necessarily need to deal with the negativity of it but what you can do is talk about what you can do to fix it.”

“It’s only going to continue. I think everyone can be an activist in one shape or form because we have the ability to post things on our Facebook, Twitter something. It’s not going away,” he concludes.

Below are screen shots of the report from the Interbrand website.

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