The issue of greenwashing continues to rumble on, with climate activist Greta Thunberg refusing to attend the UN’s climate conference in Egypt, COP27, because it encourages “lying, cheating and greenwashing.” This news comes after global bank HSBC had its latest advert banned on the grounds of greenwashing—one of the first significant examples of this kind of repercussion.
For most of us, these are welcome consequences. But it does raise the question: how do we avoid greenwashing? How do we ensure, when it comes to issues of the environment and the planet, we are practicing what we preach?
For anyone not in the know, greenwashing is when a brand or business deliberately misleads the public - typically through advertising and marketing - into thinking that they are dedicated to being environmentally friendly. HSBC’s advert, for example, implied that the bank was working to combat climate change with a new slogan: “Climate change doesn’t do borders”, all the while contributing a whopping 65.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year for oil and gas alone. You can see why people might find this campaign a bit rich!
But for those of us that are genuinely interested in making our companies greener, what actions can we take in order to properly make a difference, rather than making sweeping gestures or empty promises?
Firstly, it’s important to note that the changes you make don’t have to be cutting-edge or even that innovative. For example, one of the biggest ways you can reduce your carbon footprint as a business is to allow people to work from home. In some countries like the Philippines where driving to work is common, commutes can take up to four hours every day. That’s a lot of unnecessary emissions—particularly as we’ve already proven that working from home is perfectly doable, following the pandemic.
Secondly, think about who you are working with. Your “eco-net” is cast far wider than your own company, after all. You can hardly say you are committed to improving the environment while having a ton of oil, gas or fast fashion companies on your client roster. Review your client list and, if necessary, question them about their own commitments. Then do the same for your suppliers.
Lastly, pay attention to details and watch them add up. Are you recycling properly? Have you made an effort to go paperless? Have you created any company initiatives that support environmental causes? Are you yourself putting aside a certain amount of turnover towards such causes?
In short, the things that make the most difference to the planet are not glamorous ads or large-scale events. It’s typically the small choices you make - and allow others to make - every day that truly shows a commitment to being eco-friendly. If you commit to these seemingly little actions, the issue of greenwashing need never darken your door.