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Gimme Some Truth Green Washing vs. Sustainability (J. Friedman. N. Avlonas, 2010)

Gimme Some Truth Green Washing vs. Sustainability (J. Friedman. N. Avlonas, 2010)

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Published by John Friedman
A summary of some of the causes of unintentional 'greenwashing' and how companies can avoid falling into this trap.
A summary of some of the causes of unintentional 'greenwashing' and how companies can avoid falling into this trap.

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Published by: John Friedman on Oct 08, 2010
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10/09/2010

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AuthorsNikos Avlonas
, PresidentCentre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE)North America
John Friedman
, co-FounderSustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW) 
Gimme Some Truth
:Green washing versusSustainability
 
 
Green washing versus Sustainability
Nikos Avlonas, President - Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE)
 –
North AmericaAvlonas@cse-net.org
 –
www.cse-net.orgJohn Friedman, co-Founder
 –
Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW)  johnf@sbnow.org
 –
Often green washing is not an outright attempt to be deceptive, but rather stems from failing to consider environmental impact measures with the same robust attention as is usually given to more established and  familiar measures of business performance.
 
Green washing
 –
making exaggerated environmental claims in order to curry consumer favor is one of thebanes of the sustainability community. When a company that has been lauded for its environmentalperformance is revealed to be engaging in environmentally dangerous practices it provide skeptics with thefodder they need. Even when the claims are found to be inflated (or impossible to substantiate), credibilityis lost. For a business model based on the paradigm that transparency leads to credibility, trust andultimately market advantage, these incidents can be devastating.For some companies the desire to appe
al to ‘green’ consumers and to be perceived as a good corporate
citizen is enough to encourage deliberately deceptive claims. These companies deserve the criticism andderision not only for their direct attempts to dupe the public, but also because they discredit the efforts of other, more responsible companies that are making credible efforts and achieving measureable results.Despite the perception, however, most companies
do in fact embed ‘green’ practices within day to day
operations and initiatives; therefore, on average, the primary causes for green washing has nothing to dowith malfeasance or bad intent. They have to do with the fact that more often we see a fragmentedapproach to rolling out projects or activities
 –
where one department may be donating towardsreforestation while another is measuring energy consumptions and verifying their carbon footprint. Bothinitiatives are green, but do they reflect the core business? Is there substantial reasoning behind why thesetwo departments have taken on these specific activities, and why they are completely independent of eachother? How is this reasoning being justified and measured against the financial and non-financialperformances of the organization?The old adage in business
 –
that which is measured gets done
 –
implies the converse as well; that thingsthat are not measured (or are not measured well) often are prioritized lower. This can create a negativefeedback loop which certainly has too often been the case for Sustainability.
The importance of Sustainability
How
Sustainability 
is embedded within an organization influences the degree to which it is perceived as agood corporate citizen or green business. How do we embed Sustainability then? The first step is anunderstanding of what Sustainability is!Sustainability is a form of 
development 
that meets the needs of the present without compromising theability of future generations to meet their own needs
(1987, World Commission on Environment and Development).
Successively, it is about identifying what it means for your organization strategically,outlining performance measures that will indicate levels of success in aligning strategy with Sustainability,and designing transparent communications channels to talk about achievements.
Bottom line…
Sustainability is an honest attempt to create positive social, environmental, and economicimpacts through transparent organizational performance measures and communications.Where do we sometimes go wrong?
 
 Responsibility for measuring sustainability results is too often relegated to junior staff, temporaryemployees or interns who may not have the necessary knowledge of the business to fully analyzeinformation.
Green Marketing and Sustainability
What does this have to do with green washing? Everything. Because companies that would never considerhaving newer, temporary or inexperienced people produce their quarterly financial reports are completelycomfortable with having them produce sustainability reports (sustainability performance measures). Whenthese numbers fall short of standing up to scrutiny or are used to solely generating marketing or publicrelations materials, organizational reputation is at risk. Failing to recognize the potential dangers of thistrend in organizations not only places reputation at risk but also places a chain of other dependent factors
 –
 employees, community, shareholders, partnering organizations
 –
at risk as well! Go down the
green wash
,
but don’t take the rest with you!
 If embedded effectively by qualified
Sustainability Practitioners
in collaboration with key decision
 
makers,sustainability offers solutions to facilitate greater trust in business by applying fundamental principles tocore business values and operations that will generate clear indications of how credible these claims are. Asa result there is greater transparency between facts and claims, thus enabling consumers to see analignment between the brand ident
ity, product characteristics, and acclaimed ‘responsible’/ ‘good’
corporate citizenship initiatives.
Research showing the extent and power of Sustainability Reporting
New research conducted at the Centre for Sustainability and Excellence (CSE) confirms the hopes of manyover the last 15 years, that issues of sustainability will become a normal consideration when doing business.With much hard work by non-governmental organizations, business and government, the global businesscommunity is starting to understand the urgency for including sustainability into their long term strategies,as well as report these strategies to their outside stakeholders. The following represents some of thefindings of CSE:Sustainability reporting is now the norm with global companies reporting to stakeholders in variousregions of the world, even though reporting in this fashion is still overwhelmingly voluntaryGovernment regulation of sustainability issues is set to become the norm within the next five to tenyears.Regulation of sustainability and corporate responsibility (CSR) in various regions of the world will nowneed to come together for the creation of more uniform frameworks
Sustainability reporting frameworks, such as the GRI’s G3, will continue to add value to investors’
analysis as they highlight corporate sustainability strategy and vision, brand management, andenvironmental and social risk reduction.It is becoming more accepted that conventional financial reporting represents a less complete picture of 
a company’s performance
 
Research showing the extent and power of the 'Green' Market
Additionally, CSE research has shown that despite the economic crisis, consumers are still purchasingproducts and services from organizations that make green claims; however, there still a majority of consumers that believe businesses commit to environmental policies particularly for market gains, with alarge percentage of consumers showing skepticism over claims (
Green Marketing and Corporate Social Responsibility 
, Centre for Sustainability and Excellence; A.L.A.R.M, 2009).

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