We live in an age of ever increasing consumer awareness and corporate accountability, and if you are running a business it is vitally important that you have your finger on the pulse of such thinking and know how to act in a responsible manner. Companies are under ever increasing scrutiny from their consumers, their shareholders and governments the world over, and one of the biggest issues of our times is that of sustainability. If your company is not seen to be actively participating in the green agenda as it should be, then you are instantly at a disadvantage in an ever more complex and competitive market. It is however, vital that you conduct your business in an appropriate manner, otherwise you run the risk of being labelled in an even more negative light than if you had done nothing at all – greenwashing your company’s image.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a compound word, modelled after the idea of whitewashing, meaning to attempt to conceal undesirable or incriminating things. Therefore greenwashing is to try and hide ecologically unsound or outright illegal practices by corporations and businesses. Something that aims to promote a positive public image and a care for the environment and environmental policies while at the same time completely disregarding these measures and ideals behind the scenes.
If you have ever stayed in a hotel or on a cruise liner and seen signs about reusing your towels, then this is where it all began. The term originates in the early 1980’s when an environmentalist by the name of Jay Westervled noticed a severe irony between a South Pacific resorts requests guests to reuse their towels and the company’s actions and treatment of the local environment. This inspired him to coin the phrase which first rose to the public notice during the mid 1980’s Chevron advertising campaign known as “The People Do”. This was a very expensive advertising campaign that heavily promoted a environmentally friendly message and proudly proclaimed the company’s actions. In actual fact the actions they were laying claim to were compulsory government mandated policies that they had no choice to obey and were in fact very cheap for the company to abide by. Chevron had a very questionable environmental record at the time and whilst they were advertising themselves in this way they were actively breaking several laws regarding clean air and clean water pollution.
How does this apply to me?
If you are running a company then you have a responsibility to make environmentally sound decisions and make strides towards sustainability. This may feel like a tall order, especially for smaller businesses, and it might be easier to simply say that measures are being taken without actually doing anything. If you are caught acting in such a way, not only will you be labelled as greenwashing your company’s image, you may well be prosecuted. Sustainability doesn’t have to be such an uphill battle, employ a sustainability management firm akin to Access Environmental Planning to help you manage and strategise your company’s sustainability program. Whatever you decide, remember the towels and don’t greenwash the truth.