Friday, June 21, 2024

Are Green Companies Really Green?


Going green seems to be the latest trend. It definitely comes with a load of benefits for business owners and the world at large. Incorporating sustainability into your business creates a healthy work environment for employees, saves you money. Long-lasting, efficient light bulbs like CFLs and LEDs are decreasing the number of electricity consumed by businesses, lowering their utility bills. It ensures the reduction of waste, and in addition to that, going green can strengthen your relationship with your existing customers. 

The good news is that this trend will not abate anytime soon. Surveys show that 88 percent of business school students think that learning about social and environmental issues in business is a priority, and 67 percent want to incorporate environmental sustainability into their future jobs.

The bad news is that, despite these outstanding statistics, not everyone on the green trend is going about it the right way. Some are basically basking in greenwashing.

What is ‘Green Washing’?

When companies invest more time and money on marketing their products or brand as “green” rather than actually doing the hard work to ensure that it is sustainable — this is known as greenwashing.

Even though some greenwashing is unintentional and results from not knowing about what sustainability truly is, it is often intentionally carried out through a wide range of marketing and PR efforts. But this doesn’t give it a go-ahead, because at the end of the day it is not only misleading, but it does not help to further sustainable design or circular economy initiatives.

Various case studies have been able to show how not every green company is actually green like the 2019 class-action lawsuit against Nestle which alleges that the food giant’s “sustainably sourced cocoa beans” are simply not. Given that the production of the key ingredient in the company’s chocolate products — including its Butterfinger and Baby Ruth bars, Nesquik chocolate milk, Toll House chocolate chips, and hot cocoa mix— is one of the main drivers of massive deforestation in West Africa.

Campaigns by organizations on the elimination of single-use plastic have been able to fall victim to greenwashing. Did you know that half of the world’s disposable plastic has been produced in the last 15 years! And 91% of the plastic produced globally is NOT recycled?

Currently, only around 9% of recyclable plastic is actually recycled. So introducing more single-use options that have a 91% chance of winding up in a landfill or the ocean doesn’t seem like much of a real solution. Most companies continue singing the same song about phasing out single-use plastic without really developing a sustainable solution.

Greenwashed plastic alternatives aren’t really the solution given the problems that they bear.  Many bioplastics earn their titles and marketing symbols by being generated from renewable, plant-based biomass. Even though the material sources may be organic, that kind of labelling gives out the idea that the product looks and feels like plastic breaks down naturally in the environment like organic material. Often, however, these labels indicate merely how the product was generated, not how it will break down after being used, and without the proper conditions these bioplastics will break down in the environment just as normal plastics do: they won’t.

In the fight against greenwashing, design agency Futera came up with a resource called Sins of Greenwashing, which is set up to classify the many ways that companies participate in greenwashing, from outright lying through to making claims with no scientific proof.

Consumers in need of quality products, you should be careful about the “Green Lies” from companies who claim to be selling green goods and even going to an extent of overpricing the goods in the name of being organic. Companies, on the other hand, should invest in actually going green and being environmentally friendly instead of faking it to make it.

Dr. Edward Mungai
Dr. Edward Mungai
The writer, Dr. Edward Mungai, is a global sustainability expert. He is the Lead Consultant and Partner at Impact Africa Consulting Ltd (IACL), a leading sustainability and strategy advisory in Africa. He is also the Chief Editor at Africa Sustainability Matters. He can be contacted via

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