Pretending your company is more eco-friendly than it is can lead to major backlash. Do this instead.
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“Greenwashing” is when a company attempts to look more sustainable than it actually is. That might mean using eco-style branding for unsustainable products, not meeting corporate commitments or working towards sustainability in some areas of your business while ignoring others. Greenwashing could even be something as wild as covering a plastic bottle in a layer of paper.
If you greenwash your business, the fallout could be tremendous. Customers might never trust your brand again. To avoid greenwashing, you need to look at every aspect of your business.
1. Work towards offsetting all carbon emissions
Sourcing sustainable materials isn’t enough. You need to examine every 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 to each year. For an easy win, start by tracking business-travel emissions. Some business-travel platforms will even track carbon emissions for you and invest in an ethical carbon-offsetting initiative on your behalf.
Make sure that your investments comply with the Gold Standard or Verified Carbon Standard. You can hire a carbon-offsetting consultant to help your company track emissions and choose the right investments.
2. Don’t overstate the ethicalness of your products
Many businesses don’t meet all of the cultural standards of green living. For example, many sustainability activists demand veganism, but a brand might manufacture animal products. Vital Farms recently came under fire for greenwashing its eggs with the website copy, “Our eggs, butter, and Egg Bites are delicious, ethical food you don’t have 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’re more practical. We ask, how do you build big businesses that are moving in the right direction?”
The company allows their chickens access to outside grass. There’s also a QR code on every box that consumers can scan to track where those chickens are. However, this doesn’t resolve the issue that animal products are still a massive contributor to carbon emissions. You’re better off avoiding overly confident statements and simply keeping your marketing copy to the facts. The reality is that this brand offers transparency about where the chickens come from as well as their healthier living standards, but it doesn’t offer food that “you don’t have to question.”
3. Share evidence of your green programs
For investors and consumers, it’s often easier to police famous corporations than small companies. You could readily find out what H&M or Gap is doing to source sustainable materials and reduce manufacturing emissions, but you can’t easily find out what Etsy shop owners are up to. Are they responsibly sourcing materials? Are they eliminating waste in manufacturing and shipping?
Unless you’re actively sharing your approach, consumers won’t know. You can share images and photos of your sustainable practices on your blog and on social media. From the homepage of your website, you could link out to your sustainability page, complete with photographic proof and statistics on how you eliminate waste and lower emissions. Whenever possible, get employees involved in documenting these practices and sharing them online.
4. Be mindful of whom you partner with
The companies you endorse and partner with can negatively impact your brand. For example, as a B2B company who is not in the sustainability space, you could leave a negative impression on sustainably minded customers if you invite an executive from a fossil-fuel company to be a keynote speaker at your virtual conference. And if you have a green-living online publication and run ads to monetize the content, it could majorly confuse your audience to see display ads for unsustainable products on your website.
To avoid greenwashing, you need to look at every aspect of your business. The motivation shouldn’t be just to protect your reputation, but to protect the planet for future generations.