How to effectively avoid Greenwashing

Impact Hero Anti-Greenwashing Manifesto
Woman making a cross with her hands
Published on
February 1, 2023

Listen up, heroes!

You know, we all have the power to shape the world's course on natural capital and make the world a safer place for humanity by 2050. As the conversation around sustainability grows, so does the risk of greenwashing. And let's be real, no one wants to be labeled a greenwasher. Not only is it bad for the planet, but it's also bad for business. 

We know it's tough out there, navigating the ever-changing landscape of sustainability goals and economic impediments. Well, fear not! We are here to help.

In this blog post, we will introduce you to what greenwashing is, why it's a problem, and how companies can avoid it. Whether you're just starting out on your sustainability journey or you are looking to safely align your messaging, this is the place to be.

First things first, let's define greenwashing

Greenwashing is making misleading claims to the public with false information about a company's environmental efforts. So, to put it into a metaphor: It's like trying to sell a used car as a brand-new one. It might work in the short term, but eventually, the truth will come out, and you'll be left with a tarnished reputation. Not a great look, trust us.

How to avoid falling into the greenwashing trap? Be honest and transparent about your sustainability efforts. That’s basically it. Ok, let’s dive a little deeper, shall we?

How to communicate sustainability efforts transparently

Don't exaggerate, don't make false claims, and don't neglect to make real change. You need to become carbon neutral. We know this takes time and can be challenging, especially for the supply chain. The important thing is to have a step-by-step plan for change and to communicate it transparently.

Six anti-greenwashing core principles

We at Impact Hero are committed to spreading awareness about the risks of greenwashing and providing clear guidelines on how to communicate your endeavors in a transparent and honest way.

This is why we have established six fundamental principles to assist in communicating safely and effectively.

1. Facts and figures

We all love a good "We're saving the world" claim, but stay real and keep with the data. In order to effectively communicate, it is important to focus on accurate facts. Use measurable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) instead of misleading claims. Avoid exaggerating claims without precise evidence. 

Don't claim: "We are saving the world by planting trees”.

Do: Go with what does happen. "To support our SDG goal of securing education (LINK) in developing countries, we took measure X for about Z period of time."

2. Transparency is key

Stay accurate in what you are saying and avoid inaccurate, boastful communication. Transparent and accurate communication of sustainability efforts is crucial. Let's avoid any misleading and non-transparent business practices or inaccurate claims about sustainability.

Don't: "We are a holistically green company now that we planted X amount of trees / saved Z square meters of coral reef". 

Do: Use a realistic statement like: "We have saved x square meters of coral reef (LINK) with Impact Hero this year to engage our stakeholders and contribute to a more sustainable world. Additionally, we are working on making our business operations more sustainable, such as using less CO2-intensive materials."

3. Clear communication is a must

Vague statements like "we're a green company" just won't cut it. Rather provide clear and specific information about the environmental impacts and lifecycle stages of products and services. Make sure your language is easy to understand, without any fancy jargon that might confuse consumers. 

Don't: "We are a green company, because we cleared X km of river".

Do: Communicate with clarity. "We have cleared X km of river (LINK). We are also aiming to go greener as a company by reducing our emissions with X and Y measures."

4. Consistency is key

Singular contributions, no matter how well-intended, are simply not enough to proclaim long-term impact. Don't just pay lip service to the cause. Sustainability should be at the core of your corporate strategy.

Don't: "We planted X trees and compensated our CO2".
Do: "We are on a subscription plan with Impact Hero and are planting X amount of trees. This is just the beginning of our path to becoming a sustainable company.”

5. Think long-term

Creating a sustainable business is a marathon, not a sprint. Set short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals and be transparent about them. Communicate the progress you're making towards those goals. And let's avoid over-promising.

Don't: "We are a sustainable business, since we ran a campaign for Earth Day.”

Do: "Sustainability is important to us throughout the whole year, and we are continuously working on different initiatives to improve."

6. Stay motivated to keep learning

We are all still learning! Avoid positioning yourself as sustainable while only focusing on external positive impact. Instead, handle the internal change journey to reduce emissions, and become more socially fair and sustainable as a whole.

Don't: "We are sustainable because we fished x amount of plastic from the ocean."
Do: "We have integrated collecting plastic (LINK) from the ocean into our sustainability strategy and are simultaneously working on XYZ initiatives to go carbon-neutral in 2050. We are continuously learning and working towards improving our sustainability efforts."

Be a role model for others

Having a clear, long-term strategy to becoming net-zero and reaching the SDGs can only benefit the environment and also serve as a catalyst for spreading awareness.

Here are some additional aspects you may want to consider implementing:

Three core elements of sustainability

There are economic growth, social inclusion, and environmental protection. Additionally, the whole lifecycle of a product should be taken into consideration, too.

Misleading branding

Avoid misleading statements like using a product name, a symbol, or messages on untrue environmental qualities.

Exploitation of emotions like fear

Don't manipulate by evoking feelings like fear. Avoid communication that exploits consumers’ worries about the climate crisis, for example.

Oversell of impact

Avoid marketing material that highlights aspects of the product’s environmental impact which in truth are insignificant. 

To sum up:

Greenwashing accusations could harm a company’s reputation, even if it's just because of some unclear communication. Taking action for sustainability comes first, and communicating them, second.

Our Anti-Greenwashing Manifesto is here to help. You are welcome to use it as a blueprint to effectively communicate your initiatives.

Keep on moving

We know it is a lot. Don't be discouraged. The path to sustainability is a long and winding road. But every step counts and together, we can make a real impact. Let's take action and empower our teams as well as other companies to be positive multipliers for change!

Ah, and also, we're not done yet. We are always open to new suggestions to build our common anti-greenwashing manifesto. So, let's work together to make your company a multiplier of positive impact! Don't hesitate to drop us a line.

In case you are interested in our reading-list that provided us for our manifesto, feel free to check it out:

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