Is your organisation accidentally guilty of greenwashing? It’s more common than you think!

Organisations across all industries face increased scrutiny to reduce their negative impact on people and the planet. And, in recent years, this has led to the rise of a unique, multilayered beast: greenwashing. 

When we think about greenwashing, we often think about the extreme. A large corporation with no morals that intentionally deceives its customers by inflating or fabricating impressive data. Laughing maniacally as they secure more sales and deals thanks to their dishonesty.

But the truth is that it’s a lot more nuanced than that. It isn’t always huge discrepancies and fictionalised data sets. In fact, most of the time, it’s not even intentional. With more social value and sustainability data to capture, manage, and report, any organisation could find itself facing greenwashing claims. 

The trick to avoiding it? Taking the time to understand four simple ways you could be accidentally contributing to the greenwashing problem. Let’s take a look at a few of them…

1. Outdated goals and targets

Over time, your sustainability goals can fade away from your priorities or fall out of date. Especially if you’re not revisiting them regularly.

Let’s say you’ve already hit your goal to cut down waste by 50% by 2025. Or you decide to change a target figure for using less energy before you’ve hit the original goal. Both of these seem innocent enough. But they could open you up to some less-than-ideal accusations.

In one case, it could be said you’re slacking by treating waste mitigation as something you can finish, when you could update that with a new goal. In the other instance, you might be accused of moving the goalposts to hide the fact you aren’t achieving what you want.

The trick to avoiding this is to always update your progress to reflect the impact and effectiveness of your current efforts. If you’re close to achieving a goal, show that. Don’t just jump onto the next target, glossing over the fact there’s still work to be done on the original one. If you’ve already met a target, create a new one as soon as possible to show you’re continuing to put in the hard work.

2. Incomplete data sets

We see many businesses shouting from the rooftops about all the great work they’re doing, while keeping quiet about areas that still need improvement. You might share all over your social channels that installing solar panels helped you offset 10,000 tonnes of CO2 in the past year. But if you aren’t also acknowledging the fact that extending your offices released double that just last month, you’re being dishonest.

Remember: your stakeholders want the full story, not just the positive one.

Keeping quiet on the adverse effects of your efforts makes you look suspicious and in it for the accolade, even if it’s completely innocent.

Instead, opt for 100% transparency. If in doubt, over-share with people. Outline all the impacts of your efforts. The positive, negative, intended, and unintended consequences. Highlighting your mistakes or bad calls shows you’re willing to take accountability. And it provides you with an opportunity to explain how you will be a more conscious, sustainable business moving forward.

3. Inflated claims

We sometimes see matters of sustainability and social value siloed off in organisations. They’re dealt with by a select few teams or departments, while everyone else is in the dark. This is problematic for many reasons. But a big one is it leaves you liable to inaccurate or inflated claims. If your marketing department isn’t clued up on the ins and outs of your sustainability efforts, how can they accurately depict them on your social channels?

In marketing, sensationalism and clickbait headlines work. But you don’t want this to be the reason you’re accused of greenwashing.

A marketing executive might inflate a piece of data to encourage more views or engagement. They might misuse a term in a blog post. Or publish a progress report that’s a bit too vague and open to interpretation – simply because they don’t have all the facts themselves. 

Avoiding this is simple. Make a concerted effort to bridge any gaps between departments. If everyone has the same level of insight into your goals and progress, you can publish a much more accurate, consistent narrative of your journey.

4. Overlooking your supply chain

A large part of your organisation’s impact won’t come from your own actions or operations. It comes from your supply chain. So equally important as how you’re tracking and documenting your contributions is how your partners and suppliers are tracking theirs.

Any outdated, low-quality data in your suppliers’ reports won’t just impact their reputation and success, but yours too.

Strive to make better data practices and management a team effort. Regularly engage with your supply chain to create a standardised, consistent approach. And, if it’s within your power, offer support and resources to help them get on the same page as you.

Greenwashing is complex. And it’s still a relatively new issue organisations are grappling with. Throw in an influx of new data to keep up with ever-changing legislation and it’s easy to see how an organisation could find itself caught up in claims. Which is why you want to go over your processes with a fine-toothed comb, identifying the simple ways you could be leaving space for doubts in your efforts.

Impact is a framework-independent platform that allows you to capture and manage all your social value, sustainability, and ESG data with ease. It’s never been simpler to paint a clear, full picture of your organisation’s journey to complete sustainability. To find out more, schedule a demo or get in touch with the team on 0161 532 4752.