In a world increasingly conscious of environmental issues, many companies are jumping on the "green" bandwagon, promising sustainable practices and eco-friendly products. But amidst this surge in sustainability claims, a darker phenomenon has emerged: greenwashing.
"Greenwashing", a term coined in the 1980s, refers to the deceptive practice of misleading consumers by falsely claiming eco-friendly or sustainable practices. It involves exaggerating or fabricating environmental benefits while disregarding the true impact of a company's operations or products.
Greenwashing occurs when companies falsely present themselves as environmentally friendly, masking their true practices behind a facade of sustainability. Greenwashing not only misleads consumers but also undermines the genuine efforts of companies that are truly committed to sustainability. It erodes trust, stifles progress, and impedes the necessary shift toward a more environmentally conscious world.
👀Identifying greenwashing tactics; If there's not data, it's no good. I would LOVE it if some companies came out and clearly stated when and where they fucked up in their sustainability efforts. That would be trust-building for me personally, and refreshing.
While we all agree this is bs, I don't believe a good portion of the greenwashing out it is nefarious; it's born out of ignorance. Try looking at it this way; ChatGPT named 100 different certifications and frameworks to choose from and insists that I do more research as more keep popping up every day. It's confusing af! I consider the sustainability professionals' job to educate these companies. We all hate social media so stop yelling into the void and start sending direct messages with solutions.
The Impact on the Company:
eroding trust with your buyers - if you don't know what you're doing when it comes to sustainable practices, there are 100+ people out there who do and they will call you out (or in if they are helpful). Thankfully, this is not an industry where you can make stuff up and speak with authority and hope it goes well. I promise you, it will not.
wasting time - regulations are here and more are coming. Instead of faffing about with marketing campaigns that have green things on them, meet with experts and learn what your biggest impact is and start learning about what you can do to reduce and/or pivot to more sustainable practices
wasting money - bet you're going to need to recall, rebrand and rehire. You could be sued, lose customers, contracts or worse.
Tips from SPS
Remember, progress over perfection and call me crazy, but you don't have to advertise what your impact is or your plan to reduce it until you have clarity on what that means for your business. While studies show consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products, that "willingness" doesn't convert as much as studies suggest, and it's so very easy to get this wrong which will erode trust with your buyers.
Figure out what you spend and earn the most money on: that is the "biggest lever" you can pull when it comes to sustainability.
Next, look at your materials by volume both coming in and going out of your company.
Carbon footprint is just one piece of the puzzle, but a big one.
Take your time, put one foot in front of the other and work with experts.
Packaging is a big deal. Consider starting your product development journey with the packaging first, and do NOT enter into the realm of "compostable" unattended by a professional. In most cases, this material has yet to make sense, especially in CPG. Let's book a call if you're thinking about packaging and want to cut down on your homework by about 200 hours of research and disappointment.
Don't get bogged down by the jargon, certifications or acronyms. Seriously, our industry is the WORST for this. Don't start your journey with jargon or certifications, start with you and your impact (#1 & #2), then book a free call with us and we will point you in the right direction based on your size, industry, materials and your "biggest levers".
Resources to Avoid Greenwashing
Listen, resources do not replace experts, ok? If you're serious about sustainability, you have to know the landscape related to your field, product, supply chain, social impact... literally every aspect of what you do. Heck, we don't even promise all that in a "one-stop shop", we work with other experts.
You could use a carbon footprint calculator like this one, but be mindful that templated data has limitations. And remember, you don't have to publicize it just yet. Look at your numbers first and make sure you understand them.
If you want to get started with a framework, try the Inclusive Sustainable Development resources. They have free workshops and can be a good place to start for bootstrapping business owners.
SPS Partnered Resources
Waste reduction efforts have predictably evolved into the "circular economy" way of thinking. It makes sense! There is no "waste" if you think about, just wasteful ways of extracting and consuming resources. If waste is a central concern, Kaim Consultancy can help and we'd love to introduce you to Komal.
Small & medium-sized service-based businesses love B Corp because it comes with such an enthusiastic community. We recommend the Leverage Lab and we would love to introduce you to Sara to get started with your certification. Remember, B Corp gives you a score, it's not an impact reduction plan, it's more of an internal gut check and a network.
For sustainability startups OR impact right down to the unit level, our trust is with Catherine and her company ImpactableX . We are building our own tracking system with iX services because it's we can get really granular and involved in the process, plus we can track our clients' impact with them.
For communities to get involved with like the Amplifier Network (local to the Vancouver area), BC Impact & Sustainability Professionals, Work on Climate groups and more. Just ask us and we will show you around and introduce you to the best professionals for you based on your needs.