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Going green, not greenwashing

Thilini Dias, Yohan Daniel, Pranita Sinn, Charlotte Diniz, Yaye Simpara, Nathan Huguet, Alexandra Lohr, Fabrice Kalimunda - MSc Project management, innovation and sustainable development : School of Impact - The school for impact leaders.

January 24, 2023

As companies are faced with pressure and requirements from consumers and regulators about environmental issues, they must make their goods and services compatible with climate, biodiversity and resource issues, whatever their size.

However, consumers are aware that many companies are using a deceptive approach. So, how to convince consumers of their sincerity ?

According to Open Book Management, a company's culture comes down to four essential aspects : its history, its values, its policy and its objectives. For instance, Coca-Cola is telling its history, Sony is highlighting its innovative and dynamic state of mind, Netflix is reliying on its policy of freedom and openness « No rules rules ». So, is transparency within the corporate culture ? A myth or reality ?

Becoming eco-responsible is a matter of strategy…

The levers of action for companies to transform themselves in a sustainable way do exist and depend for a large part on the impetus and good execution of management and employees. According to ADEME* « A company is eco-responsible when it integrates environmental impacts in its decision-making criteria, in order to improve and manage all its processes. All aspects of the company activity are concerned. Better information and employees’training are part of the corporate social and environmental responsibility (CSR) policy. The design of products and/or services as well as production, logistics, purchasing and optimized management of employees’ travels are other levers for action. The highest level of eco-responsibility corresponds to companies that make the reduction of the environmental impact of their activities, products and services one of the objectives of their strategy ».

Conversely, greenwashing refers to any environmental claim made by a company about the eco-responsibility of its activities that is misleading consumers and the legislator. Such a marketing practice is purposedly made to attract more customers and is put forward on advertisements, packaging or on the company website. The objective is to embroider the image of the company regarding its ecological responsibility while, in reality, its activities are harmful to the environment.

…and transparency

According to a study** carried out in 2022 on 1,000 French women and men, 43% believe that it is up to companies to act for the environment. However, 57% of the French people think that companies only pretend to care about the environment. In the end, 40% of this same population expects transparency from companies.

Message fully received ! More and more companies are getting involved ! The example of Kering is particularly telling : the luxury group has set up a tool to measure the environmental impact of its brands that is directly accessible via its website. The same is true on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, with RXBAR, for instance, that details the manufacturing life cycle of its protein bars.

Avoiding greenwashing is all the more important for companies, as they will direct their offers more to millennials and generation Z. These two generations are the ones who condemn most strongly and severely the greenwashing of companies via social networks : that could deliver a deadly blow to the continuation of their activities.

A company can fall into greenwashing both unintentionally and voluntarily. A famous ready-to-wear brand unveiled in 2018, its « Conscious » collection with clothes designed from sustainable or recycled materials. The brand stated that its products were made from recycled polyester, 100% organic cotton and so on for all the fabrics and materials it used. But shortly after the release of the collection, the Norwegian Consumer Authority (NCA) accused the brand of not disclosing enough information about the percentage of recycled materials. The brand has also been at the heart of other scandals : an investigation by the media Quartz shows that the manufacture of some clothes required more water than the brand claimed on its website, revealing the non-transparency and the falseness of the brand.

Another high-profile example of greenwashing involves a car brand that deliberately lied about the environmental performances of its engines. As a matter of fact, the car giant forged the results of the analysis of the gases emitted by its vehicles so that it looked as if they kept to the standards imposed by the Clean Air Act, an American law that imposes thresholds of gas emissions in order to limit air pollution. 11 millions vehicles are concerned with a level of carbon monoxide emitted 40 times higher than the threshold set by the regulation. The case began in 2015 and is still ongoing.

To avoid being blamed on greenwashing, you have to talk in numbers !

What the new generations are expecting is an honest and visionary approach. Companies have this role of triggering, from providing accompaniment to the transformation of our life habits. Communicating on its impactful actions and its vision of the future, can really make the difference in establishing a relationship of trust.

A virtuous circle is then set in motion and the company naturally and continuously optimizes its circular and eco-responsible approach, to satisfy the growing demand of today's and tomorrow's consum’actors.

Beyond the necessary clarity and transparency, notably through the display of measurable data certified by trusted third parties, isn't the ecological transformation of our societies ultimately a matter of collaboration and trust between citizens, companies and legislators for a common goal ?

With this in mind, Vetted, the marketplace for verified sustainable solutions, is offering products and services that meet the expectations of each of the issues that companies are facing and is assisting them in all stages of their transition to eco-responsibility.

We do repeat : change is no longer an option !

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