Responsible business is a hot topic nowadays, and many of us are actively trying to do our due diligence on companies in our supply chain. However, greenwashing – the act of businesses making fraudulent and unrepresentative claims about the environmentally friendly nature of their practices – is a becoming an increasingly prominent obstacle.
Now, since it is common for companies to conflate ‘being environmentally aware’ with simply being a popular marketable trend; it’s absolutely possible that many companies don’t even know they are guilty of greenwashing. Therefore, in the interests of clarity, we’ll run through some of the common signs and signals of a business needing to update their practices.
A common sign of greenwashing is an over-reliance on empty buzzwords, like ‘eco’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘sustainable’, ‘all-natural’, and ‘green’ – as opposed to actually describing how business practices are environmentally friendly. Beware of companies who use these terms as a crutch – after all, if a product was made of 100% recycled materials, or manufactured using an entirely carbon neutral process; what would be the benefit of simply advertising it as ‘green’?
For the sake of brevity in their marketing, many responsible companies will usually provide a link to additional reading material – but not doing so could be a sign that the company in question wants you to just take their advertisement at face value.
Greenwashing can easily be identified when claims such as ‘made with natural ingredients’ are not accompanied by a legitimate certification label, such as ‘Vegan Approved’. Since not having relevant certification creates difficulties for companies, there really isn’t a good reason to not have one – however, some companies may create phony certification labels to create the surface-level illusion of legitimacy.
If you are suspicious about a certification, they are generally easy to find and contact – so it’s a definite red flag if you’re having trouble.
A common tactic for greenwashing companies is to propagate certain business practices, while also selectively omitting mention of others that may look less favourable. For instance, you may want to boast about your product being manufactured from 95% organic materials to encourage a sale – yet keep quiet about the emissions generated from shipping it from a country halfway across the globe. The consequence of this is that customers are actively supporting products that are having a negative environmental effect, while under the impression they are doing the opposite.
Another red flag to watch out for is if a company only has a selection of sustainable products within their overall collection, with no plans to update processes across the board. This is usually an indicator that the company only thinks of ‘going green’ as a temporary trend to capitalise on, rather than a long-term strategy for sustainable and responsible business.
An increasingly popular misconception amongst businesses is that that they can achieve carbon neutrality by reforesting trees – but without cutting their carbon emissions in any way. Now, doing this might allow companies to project an image of environmental consciousness to the public, but the reality is that this simply does not equate to a Net Zero strategy in isolation. Trees can take up to 20 years before they are even able to convert significant levels of carbon dioxide – and are still completely vulnerable to forest fires, deforestation, etc., meaning that a fair amount of replanted trees may not last long enough to be of any environmental benefit.
To clarify, this is not to say that investment in reforestation initiatives should be disregarded – after all, the more businesses participate in them, the more likely that their long-term success will be. However, it is important for companies to understand that an initiative like this is a component of a sustainability strategy, rather than a strategy in of itself.
Before committing to investing with a business, hashing out the details of their Net Zero strategy is imperative. If they’re under the impression that their investment in reforestation gives them carte blanche to maintain their current carbon emission levels, they need to rethink their long term environmental strategies.
It’s not unheard of for larger organisations with significant carbon footprints to quietly create smaller brands; which are crafted to appeal to environmentally conscious customers. The benefit of this is that by not making their affiliation public, the organisation are securing business from a market that would normally avoid them. Therefore, before aligning with a company, it’s crucial to find out the hierarchy of ownership before inadvertently funding environmentally irresponsible business practices.
Now, greenwashing can take many forms, and this list shouldn’t be considered exhaustive – but at the end of the day, the best defence against greenwashing is always to actively ask questions before entering into long-term arrangements. Being scrutinous now will prepare you for when others put you under scrutiny – and a proactive approach can help you avoid many potential pitfalls around the corner.
To learn how Apogee is ensuring its business is conducted responsibly, please find our Corporate Sustainability Report for 2021 here.