When a company is making the transition towards adapting a model which integrates the 3Ps of sustainability, it is important to distinguish between what actually works and what is utter greenwashing. As more and more consumers are concerned about the environment, companies might tend to resort to easier ways to achieve their sustainable goals. This could be a major factor behind greenwashing. Throughout this article we will try to explore what greenwashing actually constitutes and how can we prevent it.Topics in this article
The term ‘Greenwashing’ was penned in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, at a time when companies were brought under the radar for false promises on environmental protection. Westerveld’s essay highlighted the hotel industry’s lack of conscious decision making when it came to addressing environmental issues. He addressed how reusing towels in a hotel would not take in hand pressing matters such as energy consumption, waste management, and labor protection. He called this kind of communication ‘greenwashing’ where companies put up an act about making changes when they are only doing the barest minimum.
‘Greenwashing’ is notoriously known to be an unethical marketing tactic where companies promote themselves as harbingers of social and environmental development without actually making any real, long-term commitment.
Although the difference between greenwashing and actual act is vast – the impact of the latter is often clearly visible and is traceable – it can be difficult to differentiate one from the other due to several companies’ marketing tactics.
Here are some ways in which consumers/organizations can spot greenwashing:
1. Is the company only talking about the positive impact of its products while leaving out the negative ones?
While it is a fair angle to talk about the benefits of a product, when it comes to the environment, a lot of companies give up on the harmful aspects of their products. They resort to “selective disclosure” where they ignore the facts which might be in the end destructive for the environment.
2. Does the company talk about environmental and social issues only during particular months?
Several companies fall into the topical pattern where they join the conversation about a particular issue only during the month when the topic is discussed. For example, companies will choose to talk about sustainability or “eco-friendly practices” only in the month of June during the World Environment Day and will not participate in any kind of discourse during the rest of the year.
3. Making irrelevant claims
One of the most common mistakes of greenwashing is that it is doesn’t consider a wholesome strategy. For example, while doing away with straws entirely is always a good idea to reduce plastic waster but replacing them with plastic lids only increasing the consumption of plastics.
In his book, ‘Mastering Circular Economy’, Ed Weenk MSc, PDEng. describes that “in order to counter the suspicions of greenwashing, businesses are under increasing pressure to measure and monitor their environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities to arrive at a more precise assessment of their purpose-driven actions. Many businesses follow the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) principles. The World Economic Forum – together with Big Four firms – has developed a set of metrics for the disclosure of non-financial ESG factors. It covers key measures, such as greenhouse gas emissions, nature loss, resource circularity, and gender and ethnicity pay gaps (WEF, 2020c).”
It is important for a business to have the purpose of driving real change, resulting in an actual push towards sustainability. They must be motivated enough to give up on the old notions of linear economy and make an impact on every level of the value chain.
Now you know that Greenwashing is quite the opposite to a company’s efforts to make any real change. It is in fact a marketing tactic through which companies try to sell the idea of being environmentally conscious to attract consumers. Although many companies have made sincere efforts to drive the change towards a more sustainable future and contribute to a circular economy, there those who have been called out for their false promises. Today companies and startups are consciously making decisions to adapt to a more circular economy and focus on creating sustainable value chains.
The innovative web-based business simulation game, The Triple Connection, engages its participants in implementing a sustainable strategy for a virtual chocolate milk manufacturer. Participants will be confronted with various real-life, real-time dilemmas. They will be compelled to make decisions that are critical to maintaining a fair balance between profitability and sustainability.
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