Spotters Guide to Greenwashing


It’s everywhere and it’s pernicious. Greenwashing, the cloaking of a marketing intent in the language of sustainability and environmental awareness, is on the rise. Greenwashing undermines the credibility of those doing their best to develop sustainable media businesses. Worse still, it is downright lazy and irresponsible, especially where large companies are concerned.

Spotting greenwash is an uncertain sport, because there are no rules. What an oil and gas company considers sustainable is unlikely to be what Greenpeace considers sustainable. Somewhere in between the two extremes is a reasonable stance that suits most businesses. You can generally get a hint that an organisation is greenwashing if they make statements along the following lines:

• 'We have sustainability as a theme.' Generally applied to events and promotional projects, it’s meaningless. Sustainability is more than a fleeting concept and should apply to the entire enterprise, all the time.

• 'We follow environmental standards.' If the company doesn’t name the standard and what it’s for, or cannot be specific about their own standard, it’s safe to say that the commitment isn’t really there.

• 'All of our equipment and processes are sustainable.' This is unlikely to have very much to do with the environment and lots to do with profits and efficiency. The two go hand in hand, but don’t mistake statements like this for green credentials.

• 'Our company is a responsible corporate citizen playing a positive environmental role.' And then what? Saying you are an environmentally responsible company is not the same as being one.

• 'We comply with all relevant environmental laws and regulations.' A fundamental for doing business, but sustainability requires leadership and commitment rather than being legislative sheep.

• 'Climate protection and saving resources is important to our corporate philosophy.' Fine and about as empty as it comes.

• 'We will fulfill your environmental requirements.' Another meaningless platitude: customers want more than hollow promises.

• 'We provide green services.' Not much more than nothingness.

• 'Our environmental policy is available on application.' This is particularly suspicious, because there can be nothing sensitive about an environmental policy statement.

If you don’t want to fall victim to greenwashing, work with companies who can make specific statements about their sustainability. Look for real words, not vague marketing blather. Businesses with a sincere commitment to environmental impact mitigation will use the language of sustainability. They will talk about minimising waste, managing energy emissions, calculating carbon footprints and compliance to standards such as ISO 50001 (Energy management) and ISO 14001 (Environmental management.

Look for cogent environmental policies and positioning statements. Remember that unless a company is specific, their sincerity is questionable. Greenwashing is pernicious because it undermines peoples’ trust in the seriousness of the environmental problems facing the planet. It should be challenged at every opportunity.

The Verdigris Project is supported by Agfa Graphics (, Digital Dots (, efi (, FESPA (www., HP (, Kodak (, mondi (, Pragati Offset (, Practical Publishing (, Ricoh (, Shimizu Printing (, Splash PR (, Unity Publishing ( and Xeikon (

This work by the Verdigris Project is licensed under a creative commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license

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