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What is greenwashing and how can SMEs avoid it?

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As the climate crisis gains wider recognition, the need to achieve net zero has become more urgent for businesses. Unfortunately, it is widely believed that installing renewable energy sources can be costly and time consuming, so many companies choose convenience over sustainability. This is when ‘greenwashing’ can become a problem.

Difficult to spot, greenwashing prioritises superficial demands rather than investing time and money in larger climate issues. While it may seem more convenient in the short term, these unsustainable methods can be detrimental to the future growth of a business. For one thing, the reputational consequences of false climate action can be crippling.

So, what is greenwashing and how can you ensure your business doesn’t fall into the trap?

What is greenwashing?

‘Greenwashing’ refers to misinformation provided by a business, falsely presenting itself as environmentally friendly. With sustainability becoming a hot commodity amongst consumers and investors, there is greater pressure for businesses to meet these changing expectations. This can lead to them trying to find quick fixes, which are often more time consuming and expensive in the long-term than installing genuinely green infrastructure.

The term greenwashing is used to cover a range of activities that create a ‘net zero’ smokescreen. From resorting to unsustainable levels of carbon offsetting to making false promises to consumers. Essentially, it covers any amount of corporate climate-related misdirection. But this isn’t always the result of bad intentions. Greenwashing can occur due to a lack of knowledge or resources. But it can have hugely detrimental effects for a business nonetheless.

The six sins of greenwashing’, is a list of indicators to help consumers spot when a business is engaged in this deceptive practice.

The six sins of greenwashing

No proof: Claims of reducing environmental impact are not verified by third-party certifications.

Vagueness: Broad, insubstantial, or convoluted claims such as ‘all natural’, ‘made with recycled materials’ or ‘eco-friendly’, with no further information.

The hidden trade-off: This occurs when businesses imply that their products are green, on the basis of a very small set of attributes. For example, some companies advertise a product as being ‘made with recyclable materials’. But, they avoid mentioning that the manufacturing process releases toxic fumes into the atmosphere.

Irrelevance: Although the claim may be true, it is unrelated to the company or service they are providing.

Lesser of two evils: Touting one good sustainable aspect of the business while ignoring greater environmental harm.

Fibbing: The sin of outright lying was seen very clearly in the case of the Volkswagen scandal of 2015. The car company admitted to cheating emissions tests by fitting defeat devices to vehicles in. This allowed the company to bypass emissions testing. Knowingly greenwashing their products, the diesel vehicles were releasing 40 times the permitted levels of nitrogen oxide.

How can SME’s avoid greenwashing?

As the climate crisis worsens, it is in everyone’s interest for businesses to become truly sustainable. And alongside smaller activities, such as cycling to work and planting trees, businesses can avoid accidentally greenwashing by switching to renewables, incorporating low carbon tech and educating staff.

To promote a sustainable ethos, a business must first plan sustainability targets. These can be reached with simple but effective changes, such as:

  • Improving your waste management
  • Educating your staff
  • Becoming green energy efficient

Becoming eco-friendly allows businesses to provide customers with complete transparency. This not only reassures them of your reliability but also allows for a wider range of potential clients.

Delivering real change is essential in moving towards a green future. While greenwashing allows businesses to pull in revenue in the short-term, it will have negative consequences further down the line.

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How can we help?

The world of sustainability can be confusing at the best of times, but greenwashed products and services merely serve to further confuse the situation.

At National Utility Hub, we are dedicated to providing completely transparent, sustainable services. Our green procurement strategy allows us to analyse your energy administration and match you with the right contract. So, you can be sure that you are becoming as green as possible.

Get in touch to hear how we can help you begin your sustainability journey.

Our offices will be closed for the Bank Holiday (Monday 29 August 2022).
If you have a query, please contact us from Tuesday 30 August onwards, and we
will be happy to deal with your query then.

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