GREENWASHING & SUSTAINABILITY

GREENWASHING & SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into greenwashing from the perspective of sustainability. What is this pervasive marketing offshoot and what can be done about it?

kermit

I came across this framework by TerraChoice and the results from their 2009 study are outstanding. You can find a link to it here.

Their research revealed that between 2006-2008 there was a tripling in green themed advertising. But that 98% of the products they tested that were marketed on this basis failed at least one of their ‘Seven Sins of Greenwashing.’

This shows that this is not a small problem isolated to a few bad apples, but a systemic problem.

Whilst there has been pushback on the methodology that was used to create this report, most notably from Joel Makower from Greenbiz, which you can find here. Overall, I think that the report is helpful in highlighting the problem with greenwashing and provides a framework to measure corporate greenwashing.

If we work on the basis of this definition from the Cambridge dictionary, that greenwashing is:

An attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is.”

I think that a lot of people would agree that companies do often engage in this type of behaviour. In the same way that they have an interest in promoting their products and services as best-in-class in other categories, when that may not be the case.

Let’s look at the ‘Seven Sins of Greenwashing’ that TerraChoice have put forward.

7 sins

1. Sin of the hidden trade-off

TerraChoice define this as “a claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.” From my experience this is a very common problem and comes about because of the complexities of sustainability.

2. Sin of no proof

TerraChoice define this as “an environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification.” This is an obvious one that companies can solve by being transparent and using third-party certification where that is available.

3. Sin of vagueness

TerraChoice define this as “a claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.” This is one which I blame on consumers for believing claims such as ‘all natural.’

4. Sin of worshiping false labels

TerraChoice define this as “a product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists.” This is one which companies can avoid by sticking to well known third-party certification schemes.

5. Sin of irrelevance

TerraChoice define this as “an environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.”  Again, companies are somewhat to blame for this, but really consumers need to be smarter and not be persuaded by such vacuous claims.

6. Sin of lesser of two evils

TerraChoice define this as “a claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.” This is a very common example. I think it could partly be driven by sustainability league tables which rank tobacco companies, oil and gas companies and car makers with small or non-existing electric ranges in amongst the top most sustainable companies.

7.  Sin of fibbing

TerraChoice define this as “environmental claims that are simply false.” This rests squarely with the companies who are making such claims and if possible, they should be prosecuted for false advertising.

What you need to know

This article looked into greenwashing from the perspective of sustainability.

We looked into the groundbreaking 2009 study by TerraChoice, which revealed that 98% of green marketing claims are false.

We then looked into the ‘Seven Sins of Greenwashing’ which TerraChoice based their report on. These serve as a useful framework to judge corporate greenwashing efforts against.

We looked into each of the seven sins in turn, the blame for most of which lay with the company making them, but we also need smart consumers to not be fooled by such vacuous claims.

Overall, most of the greenwashing claims have their root in the fact that sustainability is a complex phenomenon and too much of an emphasis on one area can cause problems elsewhere.

Ultimately, we also need smarter consumers who are looking into what they are purchasing.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think can be done about greenwashing?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

 

 

IS THIS THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY POLICY OF ALL TIME?

This article looks into Interface’s sustainability policy and asks, is this the best sustainability policy of all time?

Ray Anderson

I have talked about Interface on here before, because of their impressive sustainability performance. I mention them again because I was reading an article about Interface’s journey towards sustainability and I was really struck by just how impressive and ambitious their sustainability policy is. You can find a link to the article here.

A lot of this is down to the heroic and farsighted leadership of their founder Ray Anderson, who is pictured above. If you are reading about Ray for the first time, then I would definitely recommend that you watch his insightful Ted Talk, which you can find here.

Clearly Ray planted the seed of desire to achieve sustainability pretty deeply at his company, because even after his death in 2011, Interface has continued to achieve astonishing results in reducing its environmental impact.

Let’s look at the 7 fronts that Interface have put together that form the core of their sustainability policy.

Interface 7 fronts

These cover everything from energy, water, waste, eco-efficiency and reinventing business models. That’s just the topic areas, the goals that come with these are equally impressive. In order to make sustainability a reality, this is the kind of ambition that is required.

In a way it is sad that it is only Interface and a handful of other companies that show this level of ambition. Because we need far more businesses to show this level of commitment for sustainability to be effective.

I have said this before about the power of setting stretch targets. They force organisations to examine critically every aspect of their operations. They inspire their employees and they are an indispensable part of any corporation’s journey towards sustainability. For more information on stretch targets and sustainability, watch this video by Steve Howard from IKEA.

Let’s looks at Interface’s performance against their stretch targets.

Mission Zero Metrics

As we can see, the performance that Interface has achieved is remarkable.

But what is it that has allowed this company to achieve such extraordinary success on corporate sustainability? To answer this, I think it is instructive to look at a quotation from the Chairman Daniel T. Hendrix. You can find this below.

For a company to be as alert to new strategies as Interface is, being constantly on the lookout for such strategies has to be embedded in the company’s culture so thoroughly that it transforms the way everybody in the company sees the world and how their work connects to it. Through actively engaging with uncertainty, alertness and active learning, this foundational culture of discovery has created the conditions for many successful strategic actions to be taken.

For me, this really hits the nail on the head. It has to be about a culture change within the organisation. If sustainability becomes too siloed, to stuck with subject matter experts and always “somebody else’s problem” you will never achieve results.

Interface managed to package all of the necessary elements of corporate sustainability together and combined that with astute leadership to become the company that they are today.

What you need to know

This article looked into Interface’s sustainability policy and asked, is this the best sustainability policy of all time?

We looked at the 7 fronts that Interface identified for their sustainability policy. These covered a wide range of areas and included targets that when achieved would radically transform the business.

We looked into the performance of Interface against the sustainability metrics of their Mission Zero project.

We also looked into how it was only by way of an organisational culture change that Interface was able to achieve such remarkable results on sustainability.

To answer the question in the title of this article, for me, yes Interface has the best sustainability policy of all time. But I am hopeful that other companies will work hard to come up with more ambitious sustainability policies and more aggressive sustainability strategies in the future.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What company do you think has the best sustainability policy of all time?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

3 RULES TO FOLLOW TO MAKE SURE THAT YOUR EVENT IS A GREAT EVENT

This article looks into events and three rules to follow to make sure that your event is a great event.

field day

Events can be wonderful things. They can be places to network with people you otherwise would not have met, see great speakers who change you mind about something or see a great band that leaves you with a memory that will stay with you forever.

But we have all been to events, which were poorly organised and which left you feeling underwhelmed. This is not a hate article against Field Day festival, which I attended yesterday, merely that it is an event which is fresh in my memory and it provided the inspiration for this piece.

1. Entrances and exits

First impressions matter. I have been to festivals before and spent hours standing in ques waiting to get in. This shows a lack of preparation in how an event organiser has planned to get ticketholders into and out of an event.

The first rule to follow therefore has to be make entering and exiting the event as easy as possible. No long ques on entry and no silly exit policies.

2. Sustainability

Gatherings of people are a great way to change the way large numbers of people think in one go. Unfortunately, lots of event organisers think that sustainability should be left at the door.  This shouldn’t be the case at all and is caused by the wrong mindset and thinking practices. The reason event organisers do this, is because they believe that sustainability is something that will make their event more complicated, when in fact it will make it simpler and save them money.

I will use one example from Field Day festival to highlight this. There was no labelling of the bins whatsoever, which meant that all of the waste from the festival was put in identical containers, which would have made this material very contaminated and difficult to recycle.

bins

The second rule to follow is to embrace sustainability, use it to your advantage and use it to make your event memorable.

3. Safety  

Even though safety has come in at number 3, alongside sustainability these should be the main priorities of any event organiser.

Even though in the UK, this is normally pretty good, there is always room for improvement and especially when festivals are run in a venue for the first time, you spot things that should be put right.

My experience at Field Day highlighted this. The tent run by the Hydra, was one of the largest tents at the festival, but was set up in a way that you could only enter from the right. This of course meant that there was a large build up of people on one side and it caused problems at the beginning and end of artists sets, when viewers were arriving and leaving.

Predictably, when headliner Four Tet was playing, he drew a massive crowd and the problems were so big that his start time was delayed and he played for a much shorter time than advertised. You can read more about it here.

The third rule to follow is to drill down on safety and to make sure that you set things out in a way that will make large crowds of people flow naturally.

What you need to know

This article looked into events and proposed three rules to follow to make sure that your event is a great event.

The first rule revolved around making entry and exit as easy as possible.

The second rule revolved around prioritising sustainability. Too often events are sustainability free zones. Don’t fall into this trap. Prioritise sustainability for the opportunities to save money and because it is the right thing to do.

The third rule revolves around prioritising safety. Safety never takes a holiday and the responsibility of organising an event for large numbers of people shouldn’t be taken lightly. Think logically about how large numbers of people will behave at your event and if something needs changing, change it.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes an event great?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

LEADERSHIP FOR SUSTAINABILITY

This article looks into what differs between sustainability leadership and traditional leadership.

london skyline

There was one quotation that I came across recently that struck me as hitting the nail on the head for what the difference is, and I will post it below.

Sustainability requires leaders to be focussed more externally and it consider the interests of a wider spectrum of stakeholders.

It comes from a study by Bertels in 2010 called Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture and you can find a link to that study here.

Good leadership is good leadership, but there are some unique characteristics to sustainability that require a slightly different kind of leadership to ensure success.

Sustainability is different from a traditional business problem that can be solved by management. Sustainability is a wicked problem and so requires fundamental and far reaching change to the structure of most organisations.

Some of the best writing I have come across on the psychology of this is by George Marshall in his book Don’t Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change. Humans survived throughout evolution because we are good at dealing with very real, very dangerous and very immediate threats. Such as running from a lion in the jungle or confronting an intruder in the house. We are not programmed to be good at dealing with long-term threats. I did a review of this book which you can find here.

For a lot of CEOs at public companies their life is lived financial quarter by financial quarter and for a lot of small business owners, they live month by month. This is why those who take a long-term approach are leaders, as they dare to be different.

We should never forget the original 1987 Our Common Future, definition of sustainable development.  Their definition can be found in full below.

Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

I wrote a 4 part book review of Our Common Future, and for those who are interested, you can find a link to part 1 here.

For me, sustainability leadership differs from traditional business leadership as sustainability has a prerequisite for long-term thinking.

What you need to know

This article looked into what differs between sustainability leadership and traditional leadership.

We looked into how sustainability leadership requires an external focus and to consider the concerns of stakeholders that have historically been marginalised and ignored.

We looked into how sustainability is a wicked problem and so cookie cutter leadership styles that can be applied to traditional business problems are insufficient.

Sustainability leadership also has a prerequisite for long-term thinking.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think makes a leader a sustainability leader?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

WHAT ARE WE DOING?

This article looks into The Great Acceleration. This is a set of graphs created by Steffen, et al in 2015. It is very much the case that the impact of the infographic is greater than the sum of the individual charts.

What they display is exponential growth, which we know is not possible on a finite planet.

great-acceleration

I like the juxtaposition of the socio-economic trends alongside the earth system trends. This is the problem that sustainable development was created to solve. The graphs make it very clear that there are a lot of phenomena that are happening at the same time and many of these are linked.

I remember when I saw the graphs of The Great Acceleration for the first time, my immediate thoughts were of how important an ecological economics perspective is in this debate.

ecological economics

Particularly with regards to the earth system trends, I think that there needs to be a greater realisation that the economy and society exist within the environment. Without a viable environmental system, there will be no society or economy.

This should be used to inspire action by businesses, governments and individuals.

The charts for the socio-economic trends show all of the categories growing at a rapid rate.

For the earth system trends, the ones that stood out for me were the carbon dioxide graph, the methane graph and the tropical forest loss graph. Especially with regards to tropical deforestation, rates have been so high for so long, that we face passing on this ecosystem to the next generation in a very different state than we found it.

What is clear, is that particularly post 1950, these indicators have taken off like a rocket. Particularly when you look at the two datasets together, it is easier to see why many argue that we are living in a new geological age, one where humans are the dominant influence on climate and the environment.

If it is the case that we are living in the Anthropocene, then it makes the case for sustainable development based on the principles of ecological economics far stronger.

One positive takeaway would be that the data for atmospheric methane concentration and stratospheric ozone loss have been slowing or stabilising over the past decade. This shows that change is possible.

What you need to know

This article looked into The Great Acceleration. We looked at the graphs located within the 2015 paper by Steffen, et al.

The data clearly point to an exponential level of growth in the socio-economic indicators and a rising level in the earth system trends, which much change built into the system.

The graphs should work to sharpen the resolve of those who are interested in sustainable development.

Especially with regards to what framework should be used to evaluate progress on sustainable development, it is my belief that it makes the need for an ecological economics perspective greater.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think of The Great Acceleration?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY ONLINE

This article looks into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how businesses should operate online.

data centre

A lot is written about what businesses should do for their employees, for their communities and for other stakeholders. But is there enough focus on what businesses should do in the online world?

I talk a lot about the need for consistency in what businesses do on sustainability and corporate responsibility. It therefore stands to reason that a great deal of harmony is needed between a company’s CSR efforts in the real world and their efforts online.

Ogilvy on Advertising in the Digital Age

I just finished reading the recently released updated version of Ogilvy on Advertising by Miles Young. I found this to be packed full of information on corporate responsibility and how brands can leverage this online.

Ogilvy on Advertising

This short article is in no way a full book review; however, I might follow up with one in due course.

There was one section in particular that caught my eye and it was a section on CSR on page 205. It goes as follows.

DIGITAL SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: THREE RULES

  1. Be extremely sensitive to anything which remotely smells of “green-washing” – of insincerely stealing the clothes of an issue.

 

  1. Be prepared to shock the audience into understanding that your issue is important.

 

  1. Have a clear ask: what do you want people to do, and, if they do it, how it will improve the issue.

I thought that these were great morals for companies to abide by online.

I mentioned before about Simon Mainwaring of WeFirst that I thought his input into corporate responsibility was highly valuable. There is also the input of someone else that I really like and that is Steve Hilton, who co-founded Good Business. Both of these gentlemen came into corporate responsibility after careers in advertising and after this latest effort by Miles Young, I think there is clearly a lot of room for professionals in this space to help improve the communications aspects of sustainability and corporate responsibility.

Back to the three rules that Miles Young has put forward, lets look at each of these in turn.

For the first rule, it cannot be emphasised how important this is. Effective CSR programmes are not cheap and a lot of good and valuable work can be undone if a company takes a foray into greenwashing and suffers the consequences in the media for it. Particularly with social media, consumers are smarter than ever and able to access information from their peers. When this is combined with well resourced NGO’s who can call out instances of greenwashing, there is really no way a company will be able to get away with it.

As far as the second rule goes, this was the rule that I was most pleased to see. Companies, particularly large companies have a tendency to play it safe and aim for the mushy middle. But that route is not only heavily congested but is also as ineffective as it has ever been. The companies that you see making headlines for their CSR programmes are the ones that are really pushing the boat out and going all in on sustainability. This has a lot of business benefits and consumers will reward you for your efforts if you go the extra mile.

The last rule is also very important. The saying that I have been pushing for some time now is that communication is the missing link in sustainability. I was writing recently about the opportunities that exist for corporate responsibility within the marketing department and you can find a link to this below.

MARKETING CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY

Sustainability and corporate responsibility are complex ideas, which are interwoven with a number of wicked and not easy to solve problems. This is why they have lingered for so long. For me what Miles is trying to get at in his third rule comes down to materiality. Have you selected issues to focus on which are material and relevant to your business? If you do that, it will be a lot easier for consumers and other stakeholders to see the logic in your CSR programmes.

If you are a drinks manufacturer, you are going to want to be very strong on your water use and your plastic bottles. If you are a clothing manufacturer, you are going to want to be very strong on the labour standards in your supply chain and the chemicals in your clothing. If you are a construction company, you are going to want to be very strong on the environmental performance of your buildings and the health and safety on your building sites.

Sustainability means 100 different things to 100 different businesses. If you come from leftfield with your CSR programmes, don’t be surprised if these fail to connect with your audiences.

Also, for the last point, it really cannot be emphasised how important it is to get your customers involved in your CSR programmes. With the advent of social media this has never been easier and there is no reason why your customers, who are a key stakeholder group should not be involved online.

What you need to know

This article looked into CSR and how businesses should operate online.

We looked into three rules for digital social responsibility which were pulled out of the new Ogilvy on Advertising book by Miles Young.

The overall takeaways should be that greenwashing is highly risky, with a very small upside and the potential for a very substantial downside. That consumers are likely to reward you if you push the boat out and go all in on sustainability. Lastly, that you should pick issues that are material, be very clear with your communications and get your consumers involved in your CSR programmes online.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. How do you think responsible businesses should act online?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

MAKING SUSTAINABILITY REAL

This article looks into how businesses can make sustainability real. Businesses that make sustainability a core competency of their organisation have a better chance of capturing the opportunities that sustainability presents.

light through trees

Businesses that take the approach of using sustainability and corporate responsibility as a risk reduction strategy fail to capture the full benefits. This approach is better than being a business that willingly harms society and the environment, but it is not the best approach.

The best approach is to make sustainability the job of everyone in the business. This does not mean that it should be everyone’s number one priority all of the time, but it should certainly be in the top three.

Businesses that fully integrate sustainability into their way of working leave compliance risks from sustainability far behind and can work on solutions to sustainability problems that help their customers succeed.

Let’s now look into three ways companies can make sustainability everybody’s business.

1. Persistent public commitments

Persistent public commitments to sustainability and corporate responsibility help to highlight how the company is determined to do things differently. These should ideally come from senior executives and people with real influence.

This highlights to external stakeholders that the business is committed to responsible practices and demonstrates to employees what is expected of them. It creates a pressure to find sustainable solutions for their own business and for their customers.

In this environment, the business is naturally focussed on the opportunities that sustainability offers.

2. Partnerships

Partnerships are another way businesses can make sustainability real. These could come from inbound requests or from external prospecting.

Partnerships are the last and one of the most important of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).

UN-SDGs

As a business, this could involve a partnership with another business, a charity and even academia or the government. The important thing is the collaboration and working together to help solve social and environmental problems.

3. Culture

Another way businesses can make sustainability real is by fostering a culture that supports sustainable ideas and innovation.

Without such an organisational culture it will be difficult for any business to make anything beyond meagre progress on sustainability.

An organisational culture that would predict success on sustainability would be one that is highly collaborative, open to trying new things and based on the best ideas rising to the top, regardless of where they have emerged from.

What you need to know

This article looked into how businesses can make sustainability real. The important thing is to make sustainability seamless within the organisation and not a bolt on afterthought.

I have suggested three ways this can be achieved. It can be achieved by persistent public commitments from senior executives at the organisation. I can be achieved by launching new partnerships with other organisations to solve problems related to sustainability. It can also be achieved by fostering an organisational culture that is receptive to new ideas.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What do you think businesses need to do to make sustainability real?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby