Written by Tommy Rufai

With one eye on the fairly low-profile departure of a certain Portuguese player, it’s quite likely that Real Madrid fans let a pretty significant story slip through the net this summer. In collaboration with Adidas and ocean plastics programme Parley, the world’s second richest club recently announced the launch of their new football kit, made from ocean plastics – a novel way to raise awareness about the plastics problem.

But without a longstanding history of tackling green issues in the public eye, how can the team otherwise known as Los Blancos (The Whites) avoid the dreaded tag of “greenwashing”? Their two partners in the project have built credibility in the environmental space. For example, Parley’s whole organisation is centred around the issue and Adidas sold 1 million trainers made from ocean plastics, holding workshops and discussions at the kit launch.

But for Real Madrid, such a public stance on environmental issues appears to be new waters. Their charitable arm, the Real Madrid Foundation, set up youth football schools around Spain, but these efforts are limited to the social sphere. So what steps can be taken to boost their green credentials?

  1. Pull together a string of good performances – Companies often fall into the trap of hopping onto the back of one great stunt, but consistency is key to showing your audience you care. German supermarket Aldi’s initiative to power its UK and Ireland offices solely from renewables was backed up by a number of others and led to the achievement of its carbon-neutral target two years early. A long-term approach reaps dividends.
  2. Hit the target – Achieving a clear objective in your campaign is a great way to show the impact you’re having as a company, but also highlights how connected you are to the issue. Starbucks’ aim to reduce plastic by replacing plastic straws for recyclable sippy cup lids had a great motive, but the lids were actually heavier and ended up using more plastic than the straws. It’s so key to not only understand your aims but also the best mode of achieving them.
  3. Stay on top form behind closed doors – There’s no use in having a campaign which advocates green values when your day-to-day processes say otherwise. Many companies often worry about not seeing an immediate return on the costs of an environmental approach, but be imaginative. A good example from a few years back was Nestle who used waste coffee grounds as steam to power their factories. This gives you a triple benefit of being perceived as environmentally-conscious, forward-thinking and believable.
  4. Make the most of your press conference – Once you’ve perfected the first three points, don’t hesitate to let people know. So many companies take for granted the initiatives they put in place and often fail to realise how worthwhile they are. Of course, the primary motive should be the intrinsic benefit of an environmental project itself but when executed with good intentions and creativity, these resonate well with stakeholders. So don’t be afraid to shout about it! Sometimes you just need an outside voice to highlight the ones that are the most media-worthy.

In the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era, there’s uncertainty about what the future holds for Real Madrid’s footballing aspirations. But from a comms standpoint, life can really become whatever they choose it to be. Greenwashing is a real issue and not all companies deploy environmental strategies with the right motives in place. But for those that do, learning lessons from the past can ensure that nothing gets lost in translation.

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