Pretending your business is greener than it is can create significant backlash. Do this instead.
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June 11, 2021 4 min reading time
The opinions of entrepreneurs’ contributors are their own.
“Greenwashing” is when a company tries to look more sustainable than it actually is. That can mean using green branding for unsustainable products, failing to meet corporate obligations, or working towards sustainability in some areas of your business while ignoring others. Greenwashing could even be as wild as covering a plastic bottle with a layer of paper.
If you wash your business green, the consequences could be huge. Customers may never trust your brand again. To avoid greenwashing, you need to look at every aspect of your business.
1. Work towards offsetting all CO2 emissions
Sourcing sustainable materials is not enough. You need to examine each department and operational practice. Set a goal for when your company will offset all carbon emissions. Then work backwards from that date and assign specific goals for each year. For an easy profit, start tracking business travel emissions. Some business travel platforms even track carbon emissions for you and invest in an ethical carbon offsetting initiative on your behalf.
Make sure your investments meet the Gold Standard or the Verified Carbon Standard. You can hire a carbon offsetting advisor to help your company track emissions and choose the right investments.
2. Don’t overestimate the ethics of your products
Many companies do not meet all of the cultural standards of green living. For example, many sustainability activists are calling for veganism, but a brand could make animal products. Vital Farms recently came under fire for “washing its eggs green” with the website copy “Greenwashing”: “Our eggs, butter and egg bites are delicious, ethical foods that you don’t need to question.”
“We’re working in the existing economy,” David Kirkpatrick, an early stage investor in Vital Farms, told the Seattle Times. “There are groups that say you have to be totally pure. We are more practical. We ask: How do you build large companies that are moving in the right direction? “
The company gives its chickens access to outdoor grass. Each box also has a QR code that consumers can scan to keep track of where these chickens are. However, this does not solve the problem that animal products still contribute massively to CO2 emissions. Avoid making statements that are too confident and keep your marketing texts simple with the facts. The reality is that this brand offers transparency about the chickens’ origins as well as their healthier standard of living, but it doesn’t offer foods that “don’t need to be questioned”.
Related: Misleading advertising: consumer purchases a “green” product and it turns out to be a paper-covered plastic bottle
3. Share evidence of your green programs
It is often easier for investors and consumers to monitor famous corporations than it is for small businesses. You could easily find out what H&M or Gap are doing to source sustainable materials and reduce production emissions, but you can’t easily find out what Etsy shop owners are up to. Are you responsibly sourcing materials? Do they eliminate waste in manufacturing and shipping?
If you don’t actively share your approach, consumers won’t know about it. You can share pictures and photos of your sustainable practices on your blog and on social media. You can link to your sustainability page from the home page of your website, complete with photo evidence and statistics on waste prevention and emissions reduction. If possible, involve employees in documenting these practices and sharing them online.
Related: Create sustainability around your employees, not just your office
4. Be careful with who you are partnering with
The companies you support and work with can negatively impact your brand. As a B2B company that is not active in the field of sustainability, you could, for example, leave a negative impression on sustainability-oriented customers if you invite an executive from a fossil fuel company as a keynote speaker to your virtual conference. And, if you have a green publication online and you are running ads to monetize the content, your audience could find it very confusing to see display ads for unsustainable products on your website.
To avoid greenwashing, you need to look at every aspect of your business. Motivation shouldn’t just be to protect your reputation, but to protect the planet for future generations.
Related: Examples of Green Business Ideas