What is greenwashing? The Harsh Truth Behind Social Values
Within the construction industry, the deceptive practice of greenwashing has become a prevalent issue. Greenwashing refers to the deceptive practice of conveying a false or exaggerated impression of environmental friendliness or sustainability in an organisation's products, services, or overall business practices. Companies engaging in greenwashing attempt to present themselves as more environmentally responsible than they genuinely are, often through misleading marketing or communication strategies.
The term "greenwashing" is a blend of "green," which is commonly associated with environmentally friendly practices, and "whitewashing," which refers to the act of covering up or glossing over undesirable facts. Greenwashing can take various forms, including the use of eco-friendly language, symbols, or images without substantial environmental efforts behind them.
Example of Greenwashing
An example of Greenwashing would be; Green Construction Solutions Ltd, which proudly advertises its commitment to environmental sustainability, claiming to dispose of waste in a responsible and eco-friendly manner while championing recycling initiatives. Their promotional material emphasises their dedication to reducing their carbon footprint and being stewards of the environment. They promote themselves as “eco-friendly," "green," or "sustainable" without providing specific details about their environmental initiatives.”
However, a closer inspection reveals a different reality. Behind the scenes, Green Construction Solutions Ltd. continues to dispose of construction waste irresponsibly, contributing to environmental degradation. Their recycling efforts are superficial at best, with a significant portion of mate
rials ending up in conventional landfills.
This greenwashing tactic allows the company to appear environmentally conscious to the public while neglecting genuine efforts towards sustainable practices. It deceives customers who trust the company's proclaimed commitment to green construction, ultimately undermining the credibility of authentic environmentally responsible businesses in the industry.
More recently, some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, such as conventional energy companies, have attempted to rebrand themselves as champions of the environment. Products are greenwashed through a process of renaming, rebranding, or repackaging them. Greenwashed products might convey the idea that they’re more natural, wholesome, or free of chemicals than competing brands.
Why is Greenwashing Harmful?
Greenwashing is deceitful and unethical because it misleads investors and consumers who are genuinely seeking environmentally friendly companies or products. Often, green products or services can be sold at a premium, making them more expensive, which can lead consumers to overpay. If greenwashing is revealed, it can seriously damage a company’s reputation and brand.
How to avoid greenwashing in future projects?
First and foremost, stay true to your environmental goals and aspirations when managing your business and projects. Clearly articulate these goals in straightforward terms and substantiate them with factual evidence, normally within a Social Values Strategy. Keep accreditation claims concise; overwhelming stakeholders with assertions about who has acknowledged your sustainability efforts can lead to confusion.
If your genuine commitment is towards executing sustainable projects, ensure that the investments and personnel dedicated to these initiatives within your business are visible. Transparently showcase the resources in place to drive such environmentally conscious projects.
Avoid making sustainability claims for your business or ongoing projects that cannot withstand thorough examination. Refrain from using marketing language that overstates the situation or, worse, fabricates environmental benefits that lack substance.
Incorporating measurement systems like TOMs (Themes, Outcomes, and Measures) provides an effective means of quantifying the impact of social value activities, ensuring accurate and credible assessments. By adhering to these principles, businesses can safeguard against greenwashing and foster genuine environmental responsibility in their future projects.
Is Greenwashing Illegal?
In the UK, environmental claims made to consumers are governed by the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
(This is soon to be relocated to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Act 2023.)
These are defined broadly but include making misleading statements about a product or service (including by omitting material information) if it is likely to affect consumers’ purchasing decisions.
Similar rules exist for business-to-business environmental claims under the Business Protection from Misleading Marketing Regulations 2008 (BPRs).
The BPRs prohibit "misleading advertising". This is defined as advertising likely to deceive another business and affect its economic behaviour or which, for those reasons, is likely to injure a competitor (regulation 3).
"Advertising" is defined broadly to include any form of representation used to promote products or services (regulation 2).
Environmental claims are also governed by regulatory codes, in particular the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) Green Claims Code (GCC) and the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) CAP Code (rule 11).
The GCC is based on six overarching principles. Environmental claims must:
- be truthful and accurate
- be clear and unambiguous
- not omit or hide important information
- be substantiated,
- consider the product or service's full life cycle, and
- comparisons must be fair and meaningful
Frequently asked questions
What is greenwashing in the construction industry?
Greenwashing involves conveying a false or exaggerated impression of environmental friendliness or sustainability in a company's products, services, or business practices.
How do companies engage in greenwashing?
Companies attempt to present themselves as more environmentally responsible than they truly are, often through misleading marketing or communication strategies.
What is the origin of the term "greenwashing"?
The term is a blend of "green," associated with environmentally friendly practices, and "whitewashing," referring to covering up or glossing over undesirable facts.
Why is greenwashing harmful?
Greenwashing deceives investors and consumers seeking eco-friendly products, often leading to overpayment for premium green products. Revealed greenwashing can damage a company's reputation.
How can businesses avoid greenwashing in future projects?
Stay true to environmental goals, clearly articulate them, substantiate with evidence, keep accreditation claims concise, and transparently showcase resources for sustainable projects.
This article has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the provided content.
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