What is greenwashing and how do I avoid it?

April 2023

What do the experts think...

Greenwashing is a term used to describe any form of advertising or marketing that is misleading or exaggerated when it comes to a company's environmental, ethical or sustainability practices. Companies often use this to appeal to eco-conscious consumers, making false and misleading claims to make their product appear more environmentally friendly than it truly is.

Greenwashing can be unintentional as well! The language used to talk about business sustainability practices and measures can change or can just be confusing. Sharing is an important step in any company’s sustainability journey. By sharing your progress, you’re not only engaging customers, employees, and investors with your values, but you’re also promoting an important conversation about the environment and climate.

When sharing, it's important to be careful and up to date on how to communicate your sustainability claims. The best way to do this is to learn what greenwashing is, how to spot it, and how to avoid it!

What makes greenwashing so bad?

This practice is unethical as it erodes consumer confidence in sustainability claims in general and scares businesses from making claims at all, due to their fear of saying the wrong thing. Companies need to be aware of the impacts of greenwashing due to the legal risk it poses, which can cause reputation risks to a company if they are accused of greenwashing.

What makes a sustainability claim greenwashing? 

Greenwashing can take on many forms and can fly under the radar when spotted by an untrained eye. Here are some of the main hallmarks of greenwashing that you might see in a company’s sustainability claims: 

  • Unproven, incomplete, exaggerated, or vague information
  • Usage of irrelevant information
  • Difficult to verify or quantify claims
  • Buzz words that aren’t supported by evidence
  • For example: green, natural, sustainable, organic, environmentally friendly
  • Diversion away from a company’s negative impact by only sharing positive action in other areas
  • Usage of generic symbols or imagery related to the environment

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Avoiding greenwashing

Luckily, avoiding greenwashing when talking about your own company’s sustainability claims can be really easy! Following these simple guidelines will help make sure that the claims you make are accurate, credible, and representative of your efforts: 

  • Be honest and transparent 
  • Provide evidence and certifications
  • Avoid broad terms and buzz words
  • Focus on long-term sustainability initiatives
  • Provide accurate information about active reduction strategies

How Trace helps you avoid greenwashing?

We know how important it is for our customers to share their sustainability accomplishments, and we want to support this. To help this, we provide two key tools to make your claim transparent and credible - your Trace badge and impact page. 

Your trace badge confirms that you have completed the carbon measurement and/or offsetting process with us. Most importantly, it covers the type of certification, the dates that it is valid for, and shows our logo as the third party verifier. Your badge can also be coded into your business’ sustainability information, which will automatically link to your impact page! We build this for you and it shows clearly the certification you have, the measurement period that it covers, what was included in the scope of the measurement, the impact you’ve committed to, what climate action projects you have funded, and that Trace verifies that you’ve been through this process.

It’s that simple! This knowledge and these tools can help businesses share their sustainability actions with confidence, transparency, and ease, while avoiding the practice of greenwashing.

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