How to tell if a company is greenwashing?
With a rise in environmental-consciousness comes a rise in greenwashing. If you are concerned a company’s environmental initiative might not be all it seems, there are a few important questions to ask.
What proportion of a company’s product is sustainable?
As with energy companies like BP, it is important to consider how much of what they are producing is sustainable. If it is a minimal proportion, whilst the rest of their product creates a negative environmental impact, it is possible that the sustainable aspect they are advertising is a form of greenwashing.
How do they define sustainable?
It is also important to consider what a company considers to be sustainable or environmentally friendly, as it may differ from your own view. Take the example of Shell. They consider their energy to be 100% renewable as they invest in green offsetting certificates, despite continuing investment in unsustainable gas and oil. Whereas, for you and me, a sustainable energy source is one that directly invests in renewable energy sources.
How do they compare to companies in the same field?
As it is clear from Ryanair, comparative claims are an important way to examine a company’s environmental impact. Whereas Ryanair misled consumers by making false comparisons, we can compare products we consume to others and opt for companies that show themselves to be making significant strides in sustainability.
Are there any hidden trade-offs?
This is essential when considering the energy and travel sectors. When a company has a significant monetary stake in unsustainable practices, like the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, environment-friendly initiatives conflict their primary interest. In these cases, sustainable advertisement and campaigns are often a case of greenwashing to entice conscious consumers whilst they continue to exploit the environment.
Being aware of greenwashing practices is the first step to undermining its effectiveness. As consumers, we must hold companies to account through questioning sustainability initiatives and demanding transparency.
We can use the resources at our disposal – environmental charities, consumer watchdogs, advertising standards bodies – to expose and challenge false claims. Importantly, our most powerful tool is where we spend your money.
Through reducing our spending with companies that indulge in greenwashing and investing our money where genuine efforts are being made to reduce environmental damage, the effects of greenwashing are diminished.