How To Make Sure Your Company Isn't 'Greenwashing'

This post is sponsored by UPS.

As consumer demand for sustainably made products has grown, so have marketing claims about how “environmentally friendly” every product is. And though many companies really do follow sustainable practices, some make such claims without any facts to back them up.

That’s what’s known as “greenwashing” — what Greenwashing Index defines as “when a company or organisation spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. It’s whitewashing, but with a green brush.”

Today’s customers expect more from the companies they patronize. “We’re evolving as consumers and as a society,” Honest Company co-founder Christopher Gavigan told, “and we expect a deeper level of commitment from businesses to do more than just make money.”

With ever-savvier consumers and groups like the Greenwashing Index out there — not to mention the importance of being forthright with customers — it’s crucial for businesses to be just as green as they say they are. Here are three ways businesses can gauge their own green-ness and make sure their claims are passing the greenwashing sniff test.

Packaging and Products

Many packages and products seem to be trying to out-green each other, promising everything from faster biodegradation to components made entirely from plant byproducts. Manufacturers should pay attention, wrote Thomas A. Cohn for Corporate Compliance Insights, as the Federal Trade Commission plans to look more closely at all such assertions.

To stay compliant with the FTC, Cohn recommends companies check any green marketing about their packaging and products against four things:

  1. Make sure all claims are specific and clear.
  2. Use environmental certifications and seals carefully and honestly.
  3. Coordinate marketing and compliance staff.
  4. Always follow the FTC’s Green Guides, found here.

Shipping Green

No matter how green a product is, its environmental impact grows as it travels from its source to its customers. Some companies now offer programs such as UPS’s carbon neutral shipping to help offset the carbon impact of transporting goods. To be sure a shipper can stand up to its claims, businesses can consult third parties such as Greenwashing the Facts and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Program.

Greener Vendors

It’s easier for a business to vet its own marketing and shipping than to make sure its partners and vendors meet the same standard. The Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center shares suggestions to help manage the process:

  • Verify that vendors meet environmental standards. Determine which certifications or seals are meaningful and trusted, and ask contractors and suppliers to attain them. Consider auditing the vendors, either with staff or a third party.
  • If auditing vendors, set up an evaluation process. Several organisations, such as the New Mexico Environmental Department and Global Environmental Management Initiative, have checklists and self-assessment tools that can be helpful in deciding on an evaluation method.
  • Decide which suppliers are expected to meet what criteria. Frequent or primary suppliers may have more incentive to reach higher standards. Occasional suppliers have a smaller impact on the business overall, and may warrant a different set of criteria.
  • Create audit or evaluation schedules. Vendors may be evaluated once, annually, or on an as-needed basis.
  • Deal with non-compliant suppliers and contractors . Depending on a business’ bandwidth, vendors can be helped or eased into compliance, or given notice that other suppliers will be sought.

A greenwashed business that’s fudging its claims may have some sales success in the short term. But if those claims don’t hold up, consumers will catch on. And as environmental responsibility goes from being optional to mandatory, companies that are actually sustainable will see benefits for years down the road.

Written by Natalie Burg

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