Avoiding Greenwashing as a Socially Responsible Business Owner

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Here at The Alliance Center, we view sustainability as a holistic endeavor: a mission that necessitates the participation of both nonprofit and for-profit sectors. We are honored to collaborate with dozens of organizations in our Best for Colorado program who work in the environmental sector or are dedicated to evaluating and improving their environmental impact. We also run the Regenerative Recovery Coalition, which is in part dedicated to fostering regenerative and sustainable business practices across Colorado.

But how do you demonstrate your business’s commitment to sustainability? With few regulations on the labeling of sustainable business practices, and with rampant public misinformation about ethical consumption, many businesses either knowingly or unknowingly resort to a strategy called “greenwashing”. Greenwashing is a marketing tactic that deceives consumers with unsubstantiated claims or with misleading or false information about the environmentally friendly nature of a product or process. Greenwashing degrades consumer trust and can even result in further damage to the environment.

 Here are a few guidelines for avoiding greenwashing as a socially responsible business owner:

    • Avoid using buzz words or offering vague claims about your product or your business like “natural”, “green”, “environmentally friendly” or “sustainable”. Instead, be honest and specific about how your product or your process is sustainable—and even how it isn’t. For example, instead of stamping “eco-friendly” on your packaging and calling it a day, create a page on your website dedicated to explaining the materials, ingredients and/or sourcing of your product. Reveal the steps required to create your product and the areas of your process that could be improved. Honesty and transparency from a corporation can go a long way for an ethical consumer.
    • Don’t expect consumers to take you at your word. Instead, if possible, offer evidence from a reliable third party that your product is or does what you claim. Certified B Corporations meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, but there are other green business certifications available as well.
    • Avoid using irrelevant terms. Instead, only use specific terms that genuinely apply to your product and make sense for your audience. For example, there is no need to call your product organic if it does not make use of ingredients that are grown organically.
    • Don’t create fake labels or certifications. Trust that your honest explanations of your product or process will mean more to your consumers than unverifiable accolades.
    • Don’t only focus on advertising your consumer-facing products as green or sustainable. Instead, try to practice sustainability and social responsibility behind closed doors as well. This might manifest in multiple ways: implementing diversity and inclusivity trainings, giving back to your community through charitable donations or even networking and collaborating with other sustainability-minded businesses and organizations in The Alliance Center’s coworking space or as an Alliance Member.

Sustainable business practices and products have never been more important, more relevant or more sought out than they are today. For example, a recent survey conducted by GreenPrint found that nearly two-thirds of Americans are willing to pay more for sustainable products! Companies who successfully navigate the demand for environmentally friendly products will increase their resilience and improve their reputation. We are proud to partner with so many socially responsible businesses—and look forward to the day that all for-profit organizations are committed to “doing business better”!