7 ways to avoid greenwashing
This post is not anti-environmental. On the contrary. It’s just that covering up problems by painting them green doesn’t help.
Words by Jan Strmiska
If you want to improve your PR via greenwashing, it’s your choice. But it will come back to you in time. Because in the long run, meaningful environmental action will always beat empty words and gestures.
There’s a very fine line between those empty phrases (directed at customers, media, or both) and truly impactful action. We have collected 7 rules of thumb, or rather questions to ask yourself. They might help you navigate your eco-endeavours without succumbing to environmental grief on one hand and greenwashing on the other.
1. Does your green policy have a clear concept?
First of all, it should reflect what your company really does, its core business. When you mindlessly commit to random steps like buying more flowers for the reception, electric cars for the management, or planting a tree for each customer, you’re just blindly following the crowd. Meaning is not born of nonsense.
Take the obligatory tree planting. Europe doesn’t need more trees in plantations (there are now more than ever), it needs bushes and small fields. But buying bushes doesn’t look very impressive in the annual report, does it?
In the search for really effective measures, you could use, say, the simple “5 whys” technique. It consists of repeatedly asking, you guessed it, why: Why do we have high water consumption? Because our tap is dripping. Why is the tap dripping? Because I haven’t changed it. If you go on like this, you may find the actual root of the problem — and the appropriate solution.
2. Are your manifestoes too long?
Are your words longer than your actions? Wouldn’t a simple quote or motto like “Don’t Be Evil” be just enough?
3. What exactly have your initiatives actually brought or are supposed to bring?
Write it down. Be real. Come up with specific goals, not the usual pointless statements à la “We want to change the way people think”.
4. Will your green activities really have a positive effect?
Again, try to be as realistic as possible. Not only about the pros, but also the cons of your actions. Is it greener to buy new electric cars and create new waste, or would you rather extend the life of your diesel fleet by a year and reduce the mileage? Whichever you choose, you’ll be able to sell the idea if your PR is clever enough.
5. Do you use positive or negative motivation?
In other words, do you use hard power or soft power? If your goal is to motivate people, there’s nothing worse than commanding, restricting, and forbidding. For example, if you announce that your employees who drive to work will get one less week of vacation, you’re likely to annoy almost everyone.
Yet you can turn this around and appeal to employees in a positive way: those who cycle to work will get an extra week of vacation. Plus, they’ll be healthier and more productive. Win-win. Try to be nice and creative, it pays off.
6. Do you keep yourself in check?
If you put new measures in place, you should also think about responding to feedback and re-evaluating them. Review your charitable green steps regularly and don’t be afraid to undo them if necessary. Is your green manifesto long and boring, so that none of your employees have read it in a year? Trim it down or ditch it. If something isn’t working, either change the process or just let it go.
7. Are you chasing too many rabbits at once?
This point is very much related to the previous one. If the least bright of your employees can’t remember all of your goals or values, there are too many of them. Here we go again with the manifesto! Prioritize. Even a large company with thousands of employees doesn’t need to set more than 3 different goals.
P. S. This article might come off as a bit strict or critical, but don’t worry, we’re still learning it all ourselves at Creative Dock. For example, we had to grapple with that last point, the rabbit chase, and in the end, we came to the conclusion that we only needed one goal instead of three. But a proper one. We also found out we needed to appoint one specific person to be in charge of our green activities, otherwise they’ll get diluted. So fingers crossed! We’ll be sharing our green efforts, challenges, and wins with you.