Building Greenwashing Awareness
Greenwashing has been in existence for many decades. For years, hotels asked guests to reuse their towels to save the environment when the primary motivation was for the hotels to reduce their laundry costs. Companies continue to rebrand, rename, and repackage their products and services to appear more environmentally friendly without making any substantive beneficial changes. It is too easy to deceive consumers since the result of using a product may not be as sustainable as claimed.
According to a survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Google Cloud, many people feel their organization has overstated its sustainability efforts — with 66 percent questioning the authenticity of its sustainability initiatives.
Acknowledging that many manufacturers are vague about their products, with little to no proof of sustainability or misrepresenting their claims, can be disheartening. Still, there are a few ways to identify a greenwashed product.
Manufacturers that greenwash might use terms such as “green,” “eco,” or “environmentally friendly,” with little to no data to back these claims up.
However, it is essential to understand where and how the products are created. For example, some seemingly sustainable materials are mass-produced or manufactured in a way that contradicts or cancels out their environmental benefits. Or they may be made with plant-based materials, utilizing processes that are unsafe for human health.
There are a few ways to identify a truly sustainable product. Reputable companies can provide data and independently verified certifications backing up their sustainability claims. Third-party certifications such as Declare, Cradle to Cradle, USDA BioPreferred® and Environmental Product Declarations support LEED, WELL and Living Building Challenge projects and are examples of projects constructed with responsibly made materials.
Today, many companies are taking note of our climate change and human health and are innovating new solutions that are genuinely sustainable. When choosing a material for product design or use, there are many characteristics to consider — including lifecycle cost, production processes and certifications. Avoiding greenwashing, utilizing sustainability-certified brands, and considering the true impact of the production of the material on the environment are great ways to ensure materials won’t cause harm to the environment and the end user.