As consumers become increasingly concerned about the environment, businesses are under more pressure to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. All in all, this is a positive development that is driving real change. Case and point—90% of companies on the S&P500 published a CSR report in 2021 (up from 20% in 2011).
However, while many companies are genuinely focused on reducing their environmental impact, some are engaging in “greenwashing”—using false or misleading claims to make products and services appear more sustainable than they actually are.
This Sandpaper guide will explain what greenwashing is and provide tips for consumers and businesses on how to avoid it. We’ll also discuss why transparency and ethical practices are so important for truly sustainable businesses.
Greenwashing is the practice of misrepresenting or exaggerating the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company—often using vague, misleading language such as “eco-friendly,” “all-natural,” and “carbon-neutral.” Companies use greenwashing to make their products appear more sustainable than they actually are.
Unfortunately, greenwashing is all too common and can cause consumers to purchase unsustainable products without realizing it. It also undermines the efforts of businesses that are genuinely committed to sustainability. That’s why it’s essential for both consumers and companies to be aware of how to identify greenwashing and how to avoid it.
Greenwashing is a harmful practice for businesses as well as consumers. While the harm consumers and the environment face are much discussed, the risks companies take on when engaging in greenwashing are often overlooked.
To ensure that businesses operate sustainably, they must comply with regulations and standards related to sustainability, such as those for waste disposal, energy usage, and emissions.
Companies should not only comply with these regulations and standards but also aim to exceed them to positively impact the environment. In addition, companies can proactively monitor and stay up-to-date with new sustainability regulations and standards that may be introduced in the future.
Companies should conduct honest and transparent assessments of their environmental practices, including their carbon footprint and waste management. It is important to recognize that these assessments are not just for compliance purposes, but also for identifying areas of improvement. By being open and transparent about their environmental impact, companies can gain the trust and support of their consumers and stakeholders.
Take Patagonia, for example—the outdoor clothing company regularly updates the Our Footprint report, detailing its environmental impact and efforts to reduce it. The report doesn’t just show the good, but also the bad (and even ugly), featuring troubling facts such as, “39% of Patagonia factory workers earn a living wage”.
Transparency is a great motivator, and Patagonia’s consistent ESG progress is a testament to that fact.
Companies can use third-party certifications and audits to demonstrate their commitment to sustainability. These certifications and audits objectively evaluate a company’s environmental practices, which can be helpful in identifying areas for improvement. There are quite a few certifications and audits that companies can use, such as:
By obtaining such certifications and audits, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability to their stakeholders and gain a competitive advantage in the market.
Companies should provide concrete evidence of their sustainability efforts. This includes data on energy usage and waste reduction, as well as case studies and success stories. For example, Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan (2010-2020) included specific targets for reducing waste and greenhouse gas emissions.
Sustainability reports are a great way for companies to showcase the progress they’ve made in their sustainability efforts, while also providing a roadmap for future improvement. These reports typically include data on environmental impact, as well as information on the company’s sustainability goals and initiatives. By sharing this information with stakeholders, companies can build trust and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability.
Companies should engage with stakeholders and address their concerns about environmental practices. This includes customers, investors, and community members. Companies can build trust and improve their sustainability practices by listening to and incorporating stakeholder feedback.
For example, Coca-Cola addressed concerns about water usage by setting a goal to replenish 100% of the water used in its beverages and production processes. As a result, the company has replenished more than 200 billion liters of water to communities in need.
Greenwashing can have serious consequences for businesses, as well as for the environment. Companies can avoid greenwashing by understanding relevant regulations and standards, conducting honest assessments of their practices, and using third-party certifications and audits.
Additionally, communicating sustainability ethically requires avoiding vague or misleading claims, highlighting concrete actions and achievements, and engaging with stakeholders. By taking these steps, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and build trust with customers and stakeholders.
Sandpaper is an agency based in Dubai that specializes in creating informative and inspiring sustainability reports for brands and businesses. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your company showcase its commitment to sustainability in a transparent and ethical manner.