Five Ways to Avoid Greenwash Accusations
As a concept, ‘greenwash’ is highly subjective. The phrase was coined by Jay Westerveld in response to those ubiquitous “hang up your towels if you want to reuse them and save the planet” found in hotel rooms. Personally, I would argue that this is a very clever and successful piece of user engagement rather than something to be derided. Whether you agree with me or Westerveld, this illustrates the point that greenwash is in the eye of the beholder.
So how do you avoid greenwash accusations when there’s no fixed definition of what is and what’s not acceptable? Well first up, you can’t – some deep green activists will accuse anything and anybody of greenwash, if only to signal their own virtue. But there are lots of things you can do to ensure your green claims stand up to scrutiny.
- Most importantly, you should deliver real change before you claim anything. Avoid the trap of listing dozens of things you have done – they may add up to very little. And remember that things you intend to do don’t count for anything until you have done them.
- Only claim what you can prove – and prove it! Show the data behind any green claim including any assumptions or caveats. Use third party independent standards, data and ratings where available.
- When setting targets be very clear exactly what they mean. After accusations that Net Zero targets were mainly greenwash, many organisations started adopting Science-based Targets to underpin their Net Zero targets. This is a nice blend of the big sexy target for general consumption and the technical detail behind it for those who want to get under the bonnet.
- Put all claims in context – I often see claims along the lines of “the carbon this will save is the equivalent of taking 1000 cars off the road” and my immediate question is “but how much of your carbon footprint does that represent?” The UK’s Advertising Standards Agency has been clamping down on context-free claims.
- Likewise, some brutal honesty about your shortcomings helps foster trust. One option is to get a third party to run the rule over what you are doing – and publish it unedited.
Fundamentally, you need substance rather than spin. Being honest internally and externally is key.