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How to Promote Sustainability Efforts Without Greenwashing

In this article, you’ll learn how to promote your sustainability efforts the right way and avoid the risk of greenwashing.
TL;DR Embed
TL;DR: This article discusses greenwashing, providing recent examples of companies accused. It explains that greenwashing can sometimes be unintentional, stemming from misunderstandings of sustainability practices. It presents guidelines for companies to communicate sustainability accurately, including using specific and verified data, and engaging with stakeholders.

In the quest to highlight green initiatives, companies sometimes stumble (willingly or unwillingly) into the trap of greenwashing, compromising trust and risking reputation. This article serves as a guide to tread the fine line between promoting sustainability efforts and avoiding greenwashing, allowing business leaders to authentically engage in and communicate about sustainability.

Understanding Greenwashing

Greenwashing, a blend of 'green' and 'whitewashing,' is the practice of conveying a false impression of environmental responsibility. This misrepresentation not only misleads stakeholders but also distracts from the urgent need for genuine sustainability.

In the past few years, numerous influential companies have faced accusations of greenwashing, many having their advertisements pulled for their misleading claims. Let’s have a look at some notable examples.

KLM: Earlier this month, a Dutch court concluded that KLM's environmental advertising misled consumers, deeming it illegal greenwashing. The court criticised KLM for overstating its sustainability through inadequate measures like biofuel and tree planting, falsely implying sustainable flying.
Etihad: In April 2023, two Etihad Airways adverts were banned in the UK after the Advertising Standards Agency concluded the adverts were misleading to customers regarding environmental impact. Further complaints have focused on Etihad’s “net-zero by 2050” claims, arguing that “Etihad has no credible path to net-zero in place and is instead talking up emissions reduction initiatives that are not … feasible”.
H&M: In 2022, H&M’s environmental scorecard system was brought into question. A report found that more than half of these scores portrayed products as being friendlier to the environment than they really were. The report also found several instances where H&M's scores gave sustainability information in polar opposition to the truth.

However, not all instances of greenwashing are as intentional and seemingly malicious as these examples. In many cases, greenwashing simply stems from ignorance. Some companies may not fully grasp the complexities of sustainable practices, leading to overstated or misinterpreted green claims. Others may have insufficient methods for collecting and analysing environmental data, resulting in inaccurate or misleading information. In many cases, an absence of robust guidelines and regulations concerning sustainability can lead to unintentional greenwashing, as companies struggle to navigate the complex terrain of environmental responsibility.

Given these considerations, it’s crucial for companies to thoroughly understand the dos and don’ts of sustainability communication before releasing information to stakeholders and the public.

The Dos and Don’ts of Communicating Sustainability Efforts

greenwashing ad on a billboard

DO Share the 'Why'

Explain why sustainability matters to your company and its people. This can help to foster deeper understanding and support among stakeholders.

DO Be Specific

Replace broad statements with concrete actions and initiatives. Use clear figures and direct examples, like "We reduced our carbon emissions by 20% last year."

DO Use Verified Data

Back up your claims with hard data, ideally verified by an impartial third party. This transparency lends credibility to your claims and gives stakeholders a clear view of your progress.

DON’T Make Broad Claims

A common form of greenwashing lies in making broad, vague claims such as "we are sustainable" or "we're net-zero" without providing specific data or concrete examples. These claims, while appealing, can create misconceptions about a company's true environmental impact.

DO Recognise Limitations

Be open about what you can't do as well as what you can. Acknowledging limitations shows your commitment to transparency and honesty.

DON'T Exaggerate

Avoid overhyping or overstating your sustainability initiatives. Remember that true sustainability is a journey, and it's more important to show consistent, steady progress than to make dramatic, but possibly inaccurate, claims.

DON'T Predict the Future

It's crucial not to make absolute predictions about future sustainability achievements. Benefiting from anticipated events can mislead stakeholders and distort the company's current environmental status. Rather than leveraging hypothetical future successes, focus on outlining attainable goals and sharing practical plans to achieve them.

DO Be Transparent

Be open about your journey, including the successes and the challenges. Honesty helps build trust with stakeholders.

DO Foster a Culture of Sustainability

Promote sustainability not just in your products or services, but also in your day-to-day operations and corporate culture. This will help ensure that your green initiatives are embedded in all aspects of your company.

DO Engage with Stakeholders

Engage with your stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and investors, on your sustainability journey. Encourage their input, listen to their concerns, and address their questions honestly.

DO Update Regularly

Regularly communicate updates about your sustainability initiatives. This will show your ongoing commitment and also hold you accountable for continuing progress.

In sum, the key to communicating sustainability lies in being honest, transparent, and precise. It's about creating a culture of sustainability within your company, backing up your claims with hard data, and engaging your stakeholders in your journey towards a more sustainable future.

FutureTracker serves as an indispensable tool for businesses that aspire to embark on and communicate an authentic sustainability journey. FutureTracker helps businesses measure their current environmental impact, manage their resources more effectively, set achievable goals and targets, and implement effective strategies to reduce their carbon footprint. By providing these services, FutureTracker not only assists companies in becoming more sustainable, but also helps them communicate these efforts with integrity and transparency, fostering trust and support among their stakeholders.

If you’d like to learn about how FutureTracker can help your business, book a demo here.

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