Skip to main content

Finding green and eco friendly companies

With more and more companies making green claims, how do you separate the greenwash from the genuinely eco options?

In this article, we discuss what makes a green company, highlight key things to look for when finding an eco-friendly brand, and list some sure signs that a company’s claims are actually greenwash. 

What is a green company?

Green businesses have the environment at the heart of their model. They make decisions based on reducing their impact on the earth, its animals and its habitats, or even choose practices that will actively benefit the planet.

A really eco-friendly company will not only consider their carbon footprint, they’ll also think about broader issues like pollution, waste, and deforestation.

Lots of brands may market themselves on eco-friendly credentials while getting the majority of their profits from unsustainable practices. For example, two thirds of online adverts from major polluters including Total Energies and Shell promoted green credentials, according to a 2021 investigation by media outlet DeSmog, despite an estimated 80% of their business being in oil, gas and even coal.

Some green-seeming brands may also have unsustainable owners. Scheese was originally made by Bute Island, one of the first vegan brands, in a fully vegan factory in Scotland. But in 2021, it was bought out by Saputo Dairy, owner of a wide range of dairy cheeses and butters, including Cathedral City, Clover and Utterly Butterly. The buyout saw its Ethical Consumer rating halve and it slipped down the score table in our guide to vegan cheese.

Saputo Dairy has been accused of sourcing from companies that use soya grown in deforested areas of Brazil and the Amazonian rainforest to feed their cattle.

Truly green brands will be entirely built around planet-friendly practices. Triodos Bank is a great example: it only invests in greener and more ethical businesses, such as community renewable energy projects or eco-friendly farms. And it is fully transparent about its investments with a searchable global map of where your money goes.

How to find an eco-friendly company

Google ‘eco-friendly company’ and you’ll get thousands of options. However, finding genuinely more sustainable brands can be hard.

Ethical Consumer’s guides rate and rank hundreds of companies on their ethical and environmental record. We look at their approach to the climate, deforestation, pollution and toxics and a whole host of other ethical and environmental issues. Each guide also gives our recommended and Best Buys – including the greenest companies.

How to check if a business is green

1. Are they cutting their greenhouse gas emissions?

Companies need to drastically cut their emissions if we are going to avoid the worst effects of climate breakdown. We expect companies to set targets in line with international agreements on climate change. This means that they need to cut their emissions by at least 3.6% per year (or 2.5% for their indirect emissions) so they reach net zero by 2050.

It’s important that these targets focus on the biggest impacts a company has. It’s no good if a bank is talking about switching light bulbs in its office but still has lots of investments in fossil fuels. A company’s indirect emissions – such as those involved in manufacturing or using its products – are usually the biggest proportion. These are referred to as Scope 3 emissions, and any target should cover them.

Targets are great, but a company also needs to be taking steps to reach them. Is it being transparent about concrete plans to reduce its footprint?

Look out for claims that it is ‘offsetting’ emissions and harms: in our view, offsetting doesn’t generally work.

2. What are they doing about other environmental impacts?

Companies will also have other impacts on the environment. Check whether they are talking about issues like biodiversity loss, pollution, and waste and plastic.

A company’s biggest risks will depend on what they are selling. For food, we’d expect them to be talking about things like palm oil, deforestation and pesticide and fertiliser use – all of which have been linked to plummeting biodiversity. For clothing, they should be discussing their choices of material, plastics, labour conditions and waste. For electronics, toxic chemicals, conflict minerals and e-waste are all important.

3. Are they investing in planet-friendly alternatives?

Finding an eco-friendly company is not just about avoiding harm. Some companies are actively investing in more planet-friendly practices, helping to create change.

Many food and cosmetics companies, for example, only use organic ingredients, meaning that they were produced without harmful agrochemicals. Some top scoring organic brands include Mr Organic which sells only organic food products and Odylique sells only organic skincare, make-up and shampoo.  

A growing number of clothing companies are focused on circular systems, for example using upcycled or mainly recycled fabrics. MUD actually allows you to hire jeans.  

Brands selling only secondhand are keeping items lasting longer and reducing our need to produce more. World of Books is a great example for books, and Beyond Retro for clothing.

4. Does their green stance extend to people as well as planet?

Lots of green companies will take a properly holistic approach to ethics. This means respecting employees and workers in supply chains, for example paying a living wage and ensuring safe working conditions.

Lots of our Best Buy companies for ethical chocolate – such as Pacari – are both organic and fair trade, offering guarantees for the environment and workers’ rights.

Our articles on workers’ rights in the clothing industry, food sector and electronics industry outline major issues that companies should be tackling, from poverty wages to sexual violence.

How to spot greenwash

Greenwash involves a company making eco-friendly claims that are untrue, misleading or distract from the bigger picture of their business. There are a few key signs that a company is engaging in greenwash:

1. It’s vague

Lots of companies claim to be ‘100% natural’, ‘carbon-neutral’ or ‘planet-friendly’, but what do they actually mean by these terms?

Most truly green companies will give lots of detail on what they are doing to have a positive impact. They’ll explain, for example, where they source their ingredients or what manufacturing processes they use. They may also explain areas of their business that currently fall short, and how they plan to address these.

2. It’s focused on one small area of impact

Companies can make a lot of noise about reducing emissions and environmental impacts from one area of their business in order to distract from the whole. Coca-Cola has spent millions advertising its bottles made of 25% marine plastics, but the company remains one of the largest plastic polluters in the world.

Companies may also heavily promote one green brand, while the rest of its business is planet-wrecking. Shell is a great example of this: its consumer tariff in the UK is ‘100% renewable’, but it remains one of the largest oil and gas giants in the world.

3. It doesn’t change the fundamental business model

Some companies rely on a business model that is totally incompatible with sustainability, no matter what small tweaks they make.

Fast fashion companies like Boohoo and Shein profit from an extremely high speed and low cost turnover of clothing, which causes huge carbon emissions and mountains of waste, and relies on appalling working conditions. Banks like Barclays and Santander directly fund fossil fuels.

Until companies like these change their whole model, they won’t convince us they are eco-friendly.

How to be a green and eco-friendly company

If you’re a small business looking to become greener, here are some tips of where to start.

Green notepad and pencil on wooden table with plant

Every activity we do has an impact on the planet: start by mapping out all the possible impacts of your company. Write a list of everything you can think of, considering for example: what ingredients do I use in my products? Are any components linked to issues like deforestation or pollution? Where do I bank my money? How do I manage energy use and waste in my office space or manufacturing facility? Do I design my products with repair and end-of-life in mind?

Some of these impacts will be more important than others. As a general rule of thumb, the greatest impacts usually come from the thing you’re selling, for example from the clothing, food or other product. As a result, many of your biggest impacts may be in your supply chain.

Once you have a sense of the most important environmental issues for your company, start thinking about what you can actually change. This might involve switching suppliers, redesigning something you make, or supporting a supplier to invest in more environmentally-friendly processes.

There will likely be things you can’t immediately change. Consumers often appreciate honesty and transparency; both show you are serious and help people to hold you to account. Explain what steps you are taking and how you might start to address the ones that are proving harder.

Do ethical businesses perform better?

There are clear business advantages to being ethical: ethical companies have access to a specialist market, can charge higher prices as they are reflecting the true cost of an item, and do not face the same reputational risk as businesses that are associated with abuse.

Of course, this does not mean that ethical businesses will always perform better. But previous myths that ethical businesses could not make money have been busted in recent decades. Ethical investments have consistently performed as well as conventional ones, and some well known ethical brands – like Ecover and Method – have been sold for millions, though not necessarily to ethical buyers!