Sorting Fact From Fiction: Understanding The Complexity Of ‘Greenwashing’

WHAT IS GREENWASHING?

At Nationwide, what we deliver on is what we say we will. When we say something is being recycled, it is. Or if a practice is beneficial for the environment, that is actually the case.

 

Most consumers think the same, and expect that claims made in marketing about products are at least largely true. But what about environmental claims made about products? 

 

We are all aware that the world is changing. And many of us want to do something about it – so we look for products and services that have as little impact on the environment as possible. 

 

So what’s greenwashing?

 

Making up or misrepresenting claims about how beneficial a product or practice is for the environment is known as “greenwashing.” It can be a means for businesses to continue their detrimental and polluting practices, all the while taking advantage of well-meaning and environmentally conscious customers or manipulating the system. 

 

The phrase was first used in an essay by environmentalist and former student Jay Westerveld in 1986. Westerveld observed that a hotel in Fiji requested that visitors reuse their towels in ‘the interest of the environment’, which would also happen to be a cost-effective measure for the hotel, saving thousands each day. 

But at the same time, the hotel was undergoing an expansion and was in very close proximity to delicate island ecosystems. 

 

Greenwashing has become more sophisticated as environmentalism has gained traction and consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. 

 

According to Todd Larsen, executive co-director for consumer and corporate engagement at Green America, one of the first organisations to compile verified listings of green companies and products;

 

“[Companies are] better at how they message it, so it doesn’t come across quite so badly. It’s now much more prevalent in the general market.”

Todd Larsen, Executive Director, Green America

 

A business might claim to be “eco-friendly” or that by 2025 they are on track to being “sustainable.” They make these claims and use “greenwashing” as a way to assert (without proof) that their operations, goods, or services are environmentally friendly. 

 

 

It’s more crucial than ever to separate sustainability facts from fiction, especially in light of the growing urgency of climate change, biodiversity, and public health crises. As a sustainable waste service provider, at Nationwide, we oppose greenwashing because of its harmful impact on the environment and dishonest nature. 

 

Greenwashing misleads consumers and undermines genuine efforts to heal our planet. We also place a high priority on transparency and authenticity in sustainability. We ensure that our environmental promises are supported by concrete actions because we are committed to integrity. We uphold our ideals of integrity, accountability, and genuine environmental care by opposing greenwashing.

 

FIFTY SHADES OF GREEN – THE DARK SIDE OF GREENWASHING

With a picture of a beautiful waterfall and bright green text on packaging, companies can claim to use recycled plastic or be ‘environmentally conscious’. We’ve all been there before. With a hectic life and so many demands on our time, trusting that companies are truthful in their marketing messaging and packaging is often taken for granted. 

 

Reading the fine print on every product we purchase just isn’t a reality for today’s time poor consumers. Greenwashing enables businesses to take short cuts, make false claims, and ultimately keep causing environmental harm. 

 

Businesses engage in greenwashing for a number of reasons. Some aim to purposefully mislead customers in order to increase sales; others may inadvertently engage in such behaviour due to a lack of knowledge regarding the prerequisites for making environmental claims. Whatever the motivation, greenwashing can harm a business’s reputation and, in extreme cases, bring about costly legal action. 

 

Greenwashing not only has detrimental effects on businesses but also on society as a whole. Consumers may be misled about the actual environmental impact of the goods and services they buy and make a decision that will negatively impact the environment. 

 

Given this is such a grey area, supporting and recognising businesses that are legitimately eco-friendly can be difficult. Industrial waste management is a key service we provide at Nationwide to set our clients up for sustainability success and recognition. 

It’s extremely positive to see that global regulators are attempting to address the issue of greenwashing by implementing new guidelines, holding corporations to account, and introducing stricter enforcement tactics. The European Parliament passed a new directive outlawing deceptive advertising and greenwashing in January, 2024. In a recently published article and video, the parliament also outlined the banning of specific ‘greenwashing’ techniques. 

 

Pleasingly, Governments around the world are holding large corporations to account when false claims of sustainability, or reduced environmental impact are detected. 

 

The automotive and manufacturing industries are key players when it comes to ensuring sustainable production, emission reduction, and holistic waste management practices. 

 

However, whether it’s making false claims about the fuel economy of a car, or the use of sustainably sourced ingredients, or materials used being recyclable, when in fact they are not, some of the largest businesses in the world have been caught greenwashing. 

 

So what were the ‘reasons’ given by each corporation? 

 

  • Reason 1: “Our company was dishonest with the EPA, and the California Air Resources Board, and with all of you.” 

  • Reason 2: “We recognise that some of our reporting protocols fell short of our high standards, and we are pleased to have resolved this matter.” 

  • Reason 3: “We want to address unfounded allegations being reported in the media on its ESG disclosures: We stand by our annual report disclosures. We firmly reject the allegations being made by a former employee. We will continue to remain a steadfast proponent of ESG investing as part of its fiduciary role on behalf of its clients.”

  • Reason 4:We strongly believe, not only that this does not constitute greenwashing, but rather it is a serious way to face the energy trilemma: energy security, competitiveness, and decarbonisation.” 

  • Reason 5:We have reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and continue to take these regulations seriously.” 

  • Reason 6:We are committed to being the most trusted retailer and take these claims seriously. We hold ourselves accountable when issues like this are raised.” 

 

From the responses above, it’s clear that there’s a lot more work to be done to hold corporations accountable when it comes to misleading greenwashing techniques. Some clearly admit to their greenwashing, while other responses were straight out denials or were vague and neither an admission nor a denial of wrongdoing. 

 

One thing is clear however. The damage to reputation and consumer confidence by greenwashing can be hard to repair.

 

So what can be done to protect your business? 

 

Let’s explore that in more detail.    

 

ENSURING ETHICAL PRACTICES: 9 STEPS TO COMBAT GREENWASHING

In an age where brand transparency and trust are paramount, there are strategies you can implement in your business to ensure you aren’t engaging in greenwashing activities.

 

  1. Avoid any ambiguous terminology. Phrases like “green” or “eco-friendly” are vague and don’t add any value for customers or aid in the explanation of sustainable methods.

  2. Tell the truth to your audience. If you’re still working towards your environmental goals, be honest with your customers. If they believe a brand is misleading them, they will be less understanding.

  3. Establish reasonable goals. Choose attainable goals that you can track and report on to prevent underperforming on large-scale projects.

  4. Collaborate with transparent waste partners: Nationwide can assist you in providing advice and strategies to avoid greenwashing. We help businesses lessen their plastic impact through services like stretch wrap recycling, plastic recycling, and plastic baler rentals.  

  5. Engage a trusted third party. Being recognised and certified for sustainability will contribute to increasing consumer trust.

  6. Regularly run supply chain audits. Since supply chains typically produce the greatest emissions, an audit guarantees that the environmental claims you make can be supported. The team at Nationwide are experts in the audit process and can review and make a recommendation on how to sustainably manage your waste. 

  7. Provide evidence to back up your claim. Ensure that your messaging is supported by data and facts that enable customers to see the bigger picture. 

  8. Report on a regular basis. Reports should be shared with stakeholders, customers, and regulators to guarantee accountability.

  9. Educate clients and employees. Encourage sustainable behaviours and teach your staff about the telltale signs of greenwashing to bring the whole organisation together.

 

Partnering with Nationwide Waste can avoid practices and processes that may be viewed as potential greenwashing. 

 

Nationwide Waste has been providing services to our clients for regulated waste removal for more than 10 years that fully comply with environmental standards.

 

Our reputation as expert cardboard recyclers and managing e waste recycling for our clients is industry leading. We assist in the processing of many tonnes of cardboard a year, which not only lessens our customer waste footprint but also underscores our dedication to sustainability. 

 

In turn, this improves our clients’ reputation for being an environmentally responsible organisation. 

 

PAVING THE WAY TO AUTHENTIC SUSTAINABILITY

True sustainability comes from exposing corporations and businesses utilising deceitful and misleading greenwashing techniques. We’re working to build a world where genuine integrity to create an eco-friendly business model means significant change through accountability and transparency. 

 

Sustainability is more than just a label; it is a commitment to our planet and future generations. Whether you need timber pallet recycling services or grease trap pumping to ensure you are disposing of your waste ethically and for the health of the environment, we are your partner to make it happen. 

Taking businesses from good to great and creating a positive, trusted brand is all part of our strategy. Let’s talk today and remove any grey areas in your green journey!

 

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