In the words of Jean Rostand, a French Biologist, and Philosopher:
You can think of this Process Street article as an antidote to greenwash. We give you the information you need to identify and stop greenwash in its tracks. We do this because greenwash is not good for you as a consumer, and it is not good for you as a business owner or employee.
Like Rostand, we at Process Street believe everybody has a right to know how green the products and services they purchase are. In this article, we provide information that will give you back this right where greenwash blots it out.
Paint strippers at the ready, it’s time to peel away the dross. Click on the relevant subheaders below to jump to that section. Alternatively, scroll down to read all we have to say.
- Greenwashing: Greenwashing definition
- Sustainability templates to help you create a more sustainable business
- Environmentalism: Fashion or passion?
- Greenwashing: A troubling evolution in the corporate world
- Greenwashing examples
- Greenwashing: You have to spot it to stop it
- Greenwash: Green companies and how you can be one
Greenwashing: Greenwashing definition
Greenwashing defines an imbalance between the claims a company makes regarding its sustainability efforts, and the actual time and money spent minimizing their environmental impact.
Greenwashing is a gimmick, a marketing strategy used to deceive an ecologically conscious consumer.
The term was coined in 1986 by American environmentalist Jay Westerveld, inspired by the irony of the save the towel movement. Obviously, a towel, as an inanimate object, does not need saving. The phrase references Westerveld’s visit to Beachcomber Island Resort. Sprawled throughout the resort were signs:
“help us save the environment, please re-use the towels“
An innocent statement. Who could argue that reusing towels was not good for the environment?
However, this towel re-use was spit in the wind considering Beachcomber Resort’s plans for expansion into the fragile surrounding habitats, including the drastically dwindling coral reefs.
Why did the resort present themselves to be environmentally-conscious where the core business efforts were environmentally-crippling?
The answer: marketing.
Greenwashing: Marketing for the new type of consumer
The environmentally aware consumer.
From Generation Z to Generation X, over half the population will pay more for eco-friendly products. My generation, the millennials, lead this changing consumer perspective, with 61% willing to pay a higher price in support of sustainable alternatives.
To be honest, for me, these statistics were not at all surprising.
I have witnessed human ecological destruction at an alarming and increasing rate during my lifetime:
- The extermination of 50% of the Great Barrier Reef. A vital habitat we depend on for food, medicine, and land protection.
- A decade of weather extremes. The Earth’s climate has always changed. However, this time, it is humans and our activities that are pushing these climatic cycles outside their natural rhythms. We are entering an unknown.
- The extinction of 60% of animal populations, adding to the 83% human-attributed annihilation of all wild animals.
- Animal and plant species pushed out through the expansion of unsustainable human activities. From sea-dwelling walruses scaling cliffs to jaguars taking on alligators in an act of hunger desperation. As animals are ousted, they cling to life by any means.
Witnessing this global, human-centered devastation to our home means one does not put a price on sustainable alternatives. I, along with 61% of my generation, will support companies that have a core sustainability value.
This movement, this change in consumer value and perception, does not come because we think nature is nice to have. It comes because we know nature is crucial to have. Without the delicate intricacies and complexities of nature, we will create an unstable and hostile planet.
Put simply, greenwashing as a marketing tactic is wrong.
To prevent greenwash, you have to first deploy sustainability efforts, and secondly market these efforts with accurate depiction.
To help you get started, I have listed Process Street’s 6 top sustainability templates below. For the accurate depiction of these efforts, use Process Street’s BSR Greenwash Prevention Checklist, provided later on in this article. Implementing the latter along with our top 6 sustainability templates will provide solid ground for you to ethically meet the needs for a consumer majority, and our home planet.
Sustainability templates to help you create a more sustainable business
Adopting a sustainable business means stringently assessing each step of your business processes, asking how can I do this differently to be more sustainable? Documenting your business processes is vital for such exhaustive assessments. Below, I have listed our top 6 sustainability templates to demonstrate how you can adapt your business processes to be more sustainable.
Hotel Sustainability Audit
Although the Hotel Sustainability Audit has been specifically designed to meet to needs of the leisure industry, you can easily edit this template, whilst maintaining the core fundamentals, for a process unique to your trade.
Environmental Accounting Internal Audit
Use this Environmental Accounting Internal Audit as a guide, supporting your small business accounting processes to attain and retain a sustainable focus.
Environmental Management Systems (EMS) Implementation Checklist Template
Use this Environmental Management System (EMS) Implementation Checklist Template to help you create a plan for the development and implementation of your Environmental Management System.
ISO 14001 Environmental Management Self Audit Checklist
Run this checklist to perform an internal audit on an Environmental Management System (EMS) against the requirements set out in ISO 14001:2015.
ISO 14001 EMS Structure Template
Use this template to build and maintain the requirements and standard operating procedures for an Environmental Management System (EMS) mini-manual in line with ISO 14001:2015 specifications for environmental management.
ISO 14001 EMS Mini-Manual Procedures
An ISO 14001:2015 compliant EMS mini-manual complete with requirements and standard operating procedures, created for Black Mesa Construction (a fictional construction company).
Environmentalism: Fashion or passion?
Get me on the topic of our environment, and I will uncontrollably explode in a heap of emotion. It is a topic I am passionate about, to do my bit and support, protect, save and sustain our natural ecosystems. Albeit for my selfish reasons: I enjoy being out in nature and witnessing biodiversity with my own eyes, it calms me and keeps me grounded.
I recently watched Joaquin Phoenix’s best actors speech at the Oscars 2020.
I was immersed in his words. They were moving and powerful. But with them, I thought
Is this the fashion?
Is being seen to be environmentally conscious more important than being environmentally conscious?
Take me for example. I talk and I read about environmental issues. Through personal branding and how I project myself, people would say I was an environmentalist. But how much do I do? How much of what I say is greenwash?
As I carefully re-evaluate my moral compass and lifestyle, I will turn my attention back to business.
Greenwashing companies: What are they?
Greenwashing companies use environmentalism for corporate gain, often as a marketing tactic.
To repeat what I said in my article titled How You Can Create a Sustainable Business for Long-Term Success, adopting a green business model brings many benefits. One of which is a sales advantage via catering to the demands of a majority and the next-generation of consumers.
Greenwashing provides a superficial covering in an attempt to obtain a sales advantage, without the investment and time needed to re-invent the company’s business model to a sustainable one.
Greenwashing: A troubling evolution in the corporate world
Greenwashing is more than a question of ethics. Greenwashing is a wash, and when parched a business is exposed to the risks that come from false claims and poor investment in business sustainability. Risks such as:
- Human exposure to toxic, dangerous and environmentally damaging products.
- Legal conviction. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has strict guidelines, called Green Guides that address misleading claims.
- The continuation of unsustainable conduct with its devastating long-term impacts. For instance, a study followed sustainable and unsustainable companies from 1990-2012. The results showed that sustainably-focused companies dramatically outperformed low-sustainability firms.
- A tarnished reputation and brand causing negative consumer perspectives.
Yet, despite these risks, greenwashing is still prevalent.
Greenwashing is often subtle and difficult to identify. However, there have been obvious wide-scale forms of greenwash meeting headlines over the years.
Greenwashing example: 1, Chevron
The oil company Chevron launched the People-Do campaign, exalting the company’s efforts in support of the environment. Advertisements showed Chevron employees protecting bears, butterflies and sea turtles.
Many environmental programs promoted in Chevron’s campaign were mandated by law. Also, the campaigns were relatively inexpensive compared to advertisement costs. For instance, Chevron’s butterfly preserve movement cost the company $5,000 per year. A pin-prick relative to the millions spent on broadcasting the campaign.
This example is proclaimed as the gold-standard of greenwash, using sustainability claims to divert attention away from questionable activities. For instance, during the People-Do campaign, Chevron violated the clean air act and spilled oil into wildlife refuges.
Greenwashing example: 2, DuPont
From DuPont’s mission statement, you would be inclined to believe sustainability lies at the heart of the company’s ethos:
Matching to its mission, in 1989 the chemical company announced a new double-hulled oil tanker with ads featuring marine animals having a jolly to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
Greenwashing example: 3, clean diesel autos
Car manufacturers such as Volkswagen, BMW and Ford were beguiling in their claims of offering a green diesel alternative. You may remember Volkswagen’s emissions scandal, where 11 million of its clean diesel devices were designed to cheat emission tests. Several other car manufacturers have faced similar allegations.
Greenwashing example: 4, Kellogs
For the final greenwash example, I wanted to take a more subtle case. Pulling a company at random, I looked into Kellog’s 2018 annual report. My apologies for putting Kellogs in the spot-light, but in this report the company states a commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15%.
Is this greenwash?
To determine whether this claim is greenwash we have to decipher what a reduction of 15% means.
- Driving 199,575 passenger vehicles for one year
- The energy provision of 108,470 homes
- 2,176,299 barrels of oil
To offset these emissions you would need to:
- Recycle 319,728 tons of waste
- Obtain energy from 203 wind turbines
- Sequester carbon through planting 1,227.596 acres of forest in one year
Does the above statement divert attention away from the actual emissions expelled by Kellogs operations?
The company’s goals and recognition of a need to be more sustainable are noteworthy. However, is Kellogs, along with every other business, doing enough?
At the end of the day, Kellogs’ ambition is their Deploy for Growth Strategy. Whilst we are already operating at the limit of our planet’s capacity, is considering further growth and expansion of an already global firm unsustainable?
This question challenges the main ethos surrounding the economics of business and GDP. A question I explored in my previous article: Economic Sustainability For Success: What It Is And How To Implement It. Such a discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
Greenwashing: You have to spot it to stop it
Moving on from the Kellogs example, we know that greenwash is not always glaringly obvious. Where one may consider a company to be engaging in greenwash, another may not. For the more subtle cases, the definitive lines marking a campaign or statement as greenwash can be blurred. In this in-lies a problem. How do you spot greenwash?
How to identify greenwash as a consumer
As consumers, no one wants to be deceived. We want to know exactly what we are buying, to avoid the deception that comes with greenwash. Our question is, how do we identify it?
Spot the greenwash: Step 1, go straight to the small-print: Don’t be fooled by surface-level statements. Sometimes you have to read-between-the-lines. Go to the small print. On packaged products, read the label. Critically analyze every statement.
Spot the greenwash: Step 2, beware of branding: A common deceitful trick is the use of earth colors, such as blues, greens, and browns. These are considered natural colors, giving a false impression that the product you are buying is green.
Spot the greenwash: Step 3, look for proof: If a product or service has worked hard and invested in a sustainable business model, this will most likely be flaunted through certification. Look for such certification as evidence that a green product or service is true to its claim. Below are examples of trustworthy certifications to look out for.
- Certified Sustainable
- ISO sustainability standards
- GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards
- Green Seal
- U.S. Department of Agriculture – for food-related products
As a consumer, you do not want to be misled. As a business owner or employee, you do not want to mislead. Focussing on the latter, as previously mentioned, the boundary is fuzzy, making it difficult for you to ascertain whether your work should be promoted as green or downgraded as greenwash. For this reason, Process Street has created a checklist to prevent greenwash seeping in and staining your business operations.
BSR Greenwash Prevention Checklist: Identify whether you are on the right path
Our BSR Greenwash Prevention Checklist has been created from the Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) framework designed to prevent greenwash.
The BSR Greenwash Prevention checklist will guide you to identify greenwash risks. It must be noted that this checklist will not guarantee the honest and accurate communication of your environmental efforts, but it will assist in your aim by providing key benchmarks.
If you are new to Process Street, and a little unsure how to use our platform, watch the below webinar: An Introduction to Process Street.
In our BSR Greenwash Prevention Checklist, you will find the following features:
- Stop tasks to ensure task order
- Dynamic due dates, so no deadline is missed
- Conditional logic, creating a dynamic template that caters to your needs
- Role assignments, to ease task delegation within your team
- Approvals, allowing decision-makers to give the go-ahead (or rejection) on important items. Also, necessary comments can be provided
It is with these features that Process Street’s checklists can superpower your sustainable business with ethical marketing tactics.
Greenwash: Green companies and how you can be one
A green company is one that minimizes environmental damage, adopting a sustainable business model. To further explain, my attention is turned to my favorite clothing brand, Patagonia.
My outdoor kit room represents a Patagonia warehouse. What makes me obsessed with this brand is that sustainability lies at the heart of the business. Being green is what makes Patagonia stand out above all other outdoor labels.
Unlike companies that employ greenwash tactics, Patagonia’s operations are intertwined with the needs of nature to offer an ever-sustaining service. I have listed some examples of how Patagonia does this below:
- Provides repair and recycling services to its customers, in addition to Patagonia’s Worn Wear site giving consumers a chance to reuse its products.
- Makes use of environmentally conscious construction, including materials and fixtures for each outlet store.
- Invests heavily in renewable energy resources.
- Is a member of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, an internationally recognized verification that a building has been designed using sustainable strategies.
- All cotton is certified as organic by the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), and 56% of Patagonia fabrics are Bluesign certified.
- A high proportion of Patagonia’s clothing range is made from recycled fabrics, including nylon, polyester, and wool.
- The company belongs to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and 1% for the plant.
- The concept of fast fashion is rejected, offering quality products built to last. So much so that I still use Patagonia hand-me-downs passed across an entire generation.
An impressive list.
Considering greenwash though, one thing we have learned is to not be blind-sighted by a company’s claims and celebration of what they are doing right.
Stripping away my preset biases, I take another look at Patagonia with the question of greenwash in mind.
Despite Patagonia’s impressive efforts, there is still more this company can do. Unfortunately, I could only get my hands on the company’s 2017 annual report. Looking at this report, I notice no clearly stated greenhouse gas reduction targets nor has Patagonia addressed water use issues – Patagonia belongs to the cotton industry where it takes 10,000 liters of water to process 1 kg of raw cotton.
Could Patagonia’s green display be greenwash? Or do its commendable efforts merit a green reputation?
These questions are rhetorical. You see, this is once again a more subtle version of potential greenwash. The answer lies in what you think to be a deceptive green talk. Those fuzzy boundaries once again come into play.
To me, this highlights a key takeaway for how to be a green company. That takeaway is this: more can always be done.
With this takeaway, businesses can assess their current operations and processes to address areas for sustainability improvements. We at Process Street intend to do our bit, by providing you with more information and resources to assist you in becoming more sustainable. It is a careful act of balancing the social, environmental and economic factors to business. But with careful deliberation, innovation, technological improvement, and an open mind, advancement can always be made.
To help you do more, you can create any checklist to support your sustainability goals using Process Street. Like our BSR Greenwash Prevention Checklist, documenting your business processes will firmly establish consistent sustainable operations throughout your business.
For more information on how and why you should document your business processes via checklists read: How and Why to Document Your Workflows. This article explains the benefits documented workflows bring to a business. Benefits that can be transgressed to support a sustainable business model.
For more information on how to create checklists using Process Street – for free – watch our below video.
Because we care about you, society and our planet, Process Street has a wealth of free resources available to assist sustainable businesses. To reiterate, a sustainable business is one that considers the environmental, social and economic aspects to Business. I have listed these resources below:
- 12 Inspection Checklists to Maximize Safety in the Work Place
- Office Safety Inspection Checklist
- Hotel Safety Inspection Checklist
- What is IS0 31000? Getting Started With Risk Management
- ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Audit
- Warehouse Safety Checklist
- 5 Free ISO 14001 Checklist Templates for Environmental Management
- Environmental Accounting Internal Audit
- Hotel Sustainability Audit
- What is Workplace Diversity? Improving Diversity in the Workplace (8 Free Templates)
- How to Build Better Employee Accountability with Processes
- How to Get, Process and Act on Employee Feedback
- Why You Should Unleash Team Collaboration and How to Do it
- GRI Standards 101: Foundation 2016 Checklist Template
- GRI Standards 102: General Disclosure 2016 Checklist Template
- GRI Standards 103: Management Approach 2016 Checklist Template
- Environmental Management System (EMS) Implementation Checklist Template
- Economic Sustainability to Success
With Process Street and our above resources, you are well-set for your journey to sustainability, to flourish as a green company, and not a con-pany.
Be an influential company and not a greenwashing con-pany
Greenwash is a symptom of the lack of urgency there seems to be to address our current ecological crisis. The dangers of lavish exploitation in business are often hidden, which makes them all the more concerning. We and businesses depend on our planet and its resources. Once gone, where would a business go?
The foundations of our industries, from food, clothing to technological businesses, are cemented by ecological processes and the services they provide. Unsustainable business practice is outdated and dying under a piling mountain of evidence that concludes: Sustainability is vital for the continuation of society as we know it, and to safeguard our planet for future generations and businesses.
Greenwash is a temporary cover that does not heal the open wound. Our business environment is changing at an alarming rate, and to be prosperous, companies have to change with it. Greenwash tactics may provide short-term relief, but in the end, will contribute to the demise of the unsustainable business.
Have you experienced greenwashing as a customer? What about in business? What are your thoughts? Please comment below as we would love to hear from you. Who knows, you may even get featured in an upcoming article.