5 Ways to Avoid Greenwashing

Strengthen your corporate sustainability strategy and stay clear of common mistakes.

What is greenwashing? Greenwashing is the frowned-upon practice of boasting eco-friendliness far beyond a company’s true commitment to the environment. It means exploiting people’s interest for “green” products to attract their attention, while actually not doing anything tangibly beneficial for the environment itself.

As people collectively become more educated and demanding about environmental issues, it has turned into a huge faux pas for companies big and small. Those caught greenwashing risk losing trust, standing and, as a consequence, precious business.

Find out how you can avoid greenwashing and truly do your part to protect the environment, with these five tips.

1. Be specific to be credible

Sometimes, companies can be accused of greenwashing simply out of poor communication. Labeling anything and everything you do as “environmentally friendly”, “eco-friendly” or “green” can backfire if you don’t back up these claims with real facts and results. Today, these terms are used so often that people hardly notice them – and may consider them superficial, empty words unless you are able to explain exactly why your product has a reduced impact or how much CO2 it avoids.

Try replacing catch phrases or slogans with some simple but measurable information, supported by facts and data: your audience will come away with a better understanding of your efforts, and you will have planted a seed of trust in them.

2. Never follow a trend for trend’s sake

With everyone from global trend-hunting firms to social media influencers telling us we cannot miss out on the latest fad, it is easy for a company to be led astray or get carried away.

While understanding trends can be vital for your business, it is essential to keep an analytical eye on the trend and be well informed: among the ever-evolving hype, a corporate sustainability strategy should strive to maintain core principles as a main direction, even when adopting different product solutions.

Choose the solution that really fits your company strategy, your customers’ needs and preferences, and the market’s legislative context. Because developing the right product can take months or even years, while trends change in unpredictable ways – and sometimes disappear overnight.

3. Choose coherence

If you manage a chain of supermarkets that throw loads of fresh food at the end of each day, your cause will make little sense to people if you launch an initiative to clean the oceans from oil spills. You might even suffer some backlash, if anyone points out you are diverting attention from areas where you could obviously reduce your impact on the planet.

Perhaps, you should consider creating an original promotion to give nearly-expired products extra visibility, or donate food to a local shelter: while you might think this will spotlight your shortcomings, your corporate image will benefit from an earnest attempt to improve where you have the most leverage.

In general, it is good practice to try and build sustainable initiatives that are coherent with your business and make a real difference for people and places directly impacted by the products you put on the market.

4. Truly make a difference

When you encourage your employees to not print their emails, use reusable drinking bottles at the water fountain, or turn off the lights in the office when they go home in the evening, you are simply supporting good habits.

Not wasting resources, recycling, and taking small steps to make our activities more sustainable should be ingrained in our daily routines by now: while commendable, these minor actions cannot be the highlight of your yearly Sustainability Report!

If you are determined to minimize your impact on the environment, you must take wider action to change things – truly investing time, energy and resources for sustainability. Could you redesign your product so more units can be shipped in the same number of boxes? Or come up with original ideas to upcycle packaging? There are many ways you can help make a difference – and you’ll find most are good for both your reputation and your business.

5. Take a scientific approach

Last but not least, the key to making sure (and proving to others!) your efforts are effectively geared towards sustainability, is to measure, measure, measure.

You should have at least a ballpark estimate of your initial corporate environmental footprint, and identify where you have the most room for improvement: only then, can you plan corrective actions that will yield the best, tangible results.

Products can undergo a similar evaluation: when better sustainability features are introduced – such as a recyclable option – the new version should be compared to its standard equivalent by carrying out an LCA (Life Cycle Analysis). By quantifying the actual improvement, you’ll avoid guesswork in decision-making and have hard data to support your strategy in the right direction, proving to all stakeholders that your commitment to the environment is solid.