Avoiding Greenwash: How Green is Green?
Greenwash is widely regarded as the greatest sin in the green business world. The term was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in response to those “hang up your towels and we won’t wash them everyday” cards you find in hotel bathrooms. It’s a portmanteau of ‘green’ and ‘whitewash’, meaning covering up lots of non-green activity with a token green gesture.
So, the question is, if greenwash is so evil, how green do you have to be before you can say you are green? This is a tricky one as it is a subjective judgement and the bar is constantly rising. Here are your options:
1. Be extremely ambitious: make sure your performance is so far ahead your peers that your reputation is unassailable.
2. Meet a third party standard, for example one of the many eco-labels available.
3. Get a third party respected judgement – for example Marks & Spencer use Jonathan Porritt as an independent assessor of their Plan A sustainability programme. But you must take their criticism as well as their praise.
4. Avoid the self-justification and let the observer decide: simply present your achievements and shortcomings without declaring yourself the saviour of the planet. This is dangerous as it can lead to greenwash by default, unless you are extremely honest.
Whichever approach you take, honesty, openness and transparency are the key guiding principles.