Greenwashing is the practice that many companies engage in where they claim to be environmentally friendly, without actually being so. For example BP renaming itself Beyond Petroleum and AirBus’ claim that their A380 provides ‘a better environment inside and out’ in both these cases the implication is that the company is doing its bit to help the environment. In actuality they just came up with some clever slogans. Marketing departments are obviously keen to convince consumers that their company is green and picking up on the kudos associated with it.
However not all companies are this cynical, there are many companies that are genuinely green, either because they want to make a difference or because they have realised that it is profitable. These companies offer wide range of products and services from green cleaning equipment and solar panels to exhibition stands. So how can you tell if a company is telling the truth when they claim to be going green?
Not only do many companies falsely claim to be green, many genuine green companies don’t make any claims at all. Despite this the nature of the claims should be looked at. For example a company that makes a big thing of using less paper in its offices is probably trying to pass of a cost saving measure as a green on. As a rule of thumb it is best to be sceptical of green claims unless you can find an authoritative, independent source endorsing them. (Of course the combination of cost saving and environmentalism is in no way a bad thing when they coincide, but promoting such decisions as green is dubious at best.)
A key part of greenwashing is focusing on the one part of a product lifestyle where the company happens to use a green practice anyway. For example if you own a company that makes kitchen knives using recycled steel that’s great, even if it’s only because scrap metal is cheaper. But if making them involves a third world factory pumping out toxic waste and greenhouse gasses before it is then flown to another country for packaging and then sold in a third on the other side of the world, you don’t have green product. For a product to be green every stage of its manufacture and preferably every stage of its lifecycle have to be environmentally friendly. Ideally a company will be able to show how waste is reduced not only during manufacture but also during use and disposal. If you want to check how green an individual product is then environmental blogs are a good source of information.
You need to be careful about using green certification to assess how green a company is. There are several ‘green’ certifications which are either the invention of a marketing department or just simply unenforced. A common practice is to set up a website where companies can fill out a questionnaire and pay a fee to get a badge claiming that they are green without actually assessing the individual claim. Having said this there are also a lot certificates, such as ISO 14001, LEED and FSC amongst others, which are genuine. The exhibition stand manufacture to achieve ISO 14001 standard and is also a keen advocate for corporate responsibility.