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Are You Guilty of Greenwashing?

The debate on the cause of devastating forest fires in California rages. A rising level of disgust about plastic waste, partly fueled by an upsetting episode of Blue Planet, has produced many forms of high-profile action by household names such as Starbucks against plastic straws and bags. What used to be a fringe interest in saving the planet is now front and center of branding, for many companies. Overall, there’s more pressure than ever for brands to embrace sustainability. But be warned: it’s not always that simple, and over-selling your green credentials can get you into trouble.

As Newsweek touts the green credentials of such corporate behemoths as Cisco and PG&E in its Green Ranking 2017 list, it’s easy to think it’s a no-brainer to tout a brand as “green.” But some brands are not as green as they appear.

Volkswagen (and other car manufacturers) may remain the most prominent poster child of greenwashing but other hot brands such as Coca-Cola and BP are being caught out paying lip service to climate change amelioration while behaving in ways that continue to damage the environment. It turns out that having a program to recycle coffee pods, like Nespresso, doesn’t make you “green” if your parent company is being called out by Greenpeace for destroying Indonesian rainforests to harvest palm oil.

So how do you get it right (or, rather, avoid getting it wrong)? You could do the obvious, like the relentlessly admirable Patagonia, which does pitch-perfect things like give away all of its 2016 Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental organizations. Another, arguably more honest, way to go is the approach taken by Walmart, which frames its sustainability effort as simply a logical extension of its relentless drive for efficiency—a side-benefit of improving the bottom line. Whatever your sustainability credentials, are you guilty of over-selling them? You could use a greenwash brand conversation check-in asap.


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