A few years back, when a convention center proudly stated that it recycled, I was impressed. During the actual site inspection, however, it was evident the only recycling taking place was a box for recycling paper under the sales assistant’s desk. There was no additional recycling taking place anywhere in the huge meeting facility. Was I the victim of greenwashing?
First, let’s start with the definition. Greenwashing is the practice of advertising positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way. In today’s business environment, organizations are trying harder than ever to look good, which results in more greenwashing. Unfortunately, in most cases, this leaves the burden of proof on the decision makers.
So how can you avoid falling prey to greenwashing? A little due diligence can go a long way and, to help you get started, we offer these five tips:
- Be informed. The first step is to make sure you research your supply chain. What does it mean when your suppliers say they are green? Don’t be afraid to ask them about their specific practices and always request their sustainability policy.
- Understand what terms such as “organic” and “natural” mean. Natural does not necessarily mean healthy — arsenic, uranium and formaldehyde are natural, yet poisonous. And as far as non-toxic goes, everything can be toxic, or deadly, in sufficient dosages including oxygen, water and salt.
- Be clear on the criteria used by ecolabels and certifications. The hotel sector has introduced quite a few, such as Green Seal (United States), Green Key (Canada) and Green Globe (Europe and beyond). These are all third-party certifications that look at green operations. LEED certification looks at green construction. When researching ecolabels and certifications, look for those that use clear criteria, adopt third-party verification and report regularly on their environmental performance. Self-assessment certifications tend to be less accurate.
- Participate in a back-of-house tour. This is the most effective way to ensure that vendors who claim to be green are actually operating in a green way. Ask to see the kitchen and the areas in which waste is sorted. Honest vendors will not be afraid to let you see what they do. You can see a lot in just 15 or 20 minutes.
- Be transparent in your own practices. Do what you say and be honest about what you do. The risk of greenwashing your own practices is reduced when you are clear and up front about your commitment, intentions and actions. From a buyer’s viewpoint, it’s better to know exactly where a vendor is in the process and how they intend to take the next steps, than to be given misinformation. This is also true for organizations.
At MeetGreen, when we publish our annual corporate report each year, we feel a bit naked to the world, our successes and our challenges out in the open. Transparent. It’s the level of transparency provided by a corporate report that allows others to see our level of commitment to both environmental and social issues with measurable data. We have never lost a client because of this reporting, and have gained many.
Hopefully these tips will help you see past greenwashing, which has become much too common. When choosing a facility or vendor, there is a list of important factors such as rate, date and space. By adding a few extra items to the list, you can be certain your organization comes out sparkling clean.