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Transparency in Action as the Antidote for Greenwashing Corporate Sustainability Claims

Since we’ve been involved in the climate solutions space, we’ve found it truly remarkable how many individuals, groups, and companies have come up with ideas on how to protect the environment and mitigate climate change. And, as excited as we are about bringing solar energy to communities that have been left behind, we know that our efforts are not and cannot be the only path to greening the planet. We recognize that our actions now and the simultaneous actions of others are shaping the future. 

Talking about sustainability is growing in popularity

One of the obstacles to this progress, however, is the persistence of a rather deceptive tactic known as greenwashing. According to UNEP Champion of the Earth, Leyla Acaroglu, greenwashing can occur “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 means that they are emphasizing that their brand is environmentally conscious — although this may not be true — because it might appeal to potential customers. Doing so could include exaggerating or making up claims about company climate goals or product sustainability as well as concealing the environmental costs of operating one’s business.

Some of the biggest issues involved in greenwashing are misleading marketing strategies and a lack of transparency. Business News Daily lists some of the ways that companies can engage in greenwashing, including using vague language related to sustainability, making claims without showing their work or providing evidence, displaying images that are meant to suggest environmental positivity, and more. By emphasizing green buzzwords instead of showing the data behind and the results of their allegedly environmentally conscious products, companies can appear to be doing something that they’re not, which misses the point of climate action entirely.

Greenwashing can hurt consumers with good intentions as well as businesses with genuine climate solutions

Leyla Acaroglu continues, “Whilst some greenwashing is unintentional and results from a lack of knowledge about what sustainability truly is, it is often intentionally carried out through a wide range of marketing and PR efforts… Thus, environmental problems stay the same or more likely, get even worse, as greenwashing often sucks up airtime and misdirects well-intentioned consumers down the wrong path.” Greenwashing not only capitalizes on a potential customer’s desire to help the planet, but also takes business away from other companies who are trying their best to implement real sustainability practices into their model of operation. 

Holding companies accountable by understanding what they are actually doing, not just saying

As quoted in Bloomberg Green, Al Gore said, “sustainable investing has ‘entered the mainstream,’ providing even more openings for potential greenwashing.” Many companies have been able to perform “going green” without actually following through on their promises.

That is why it is critically important that we all as consumers have the opportunity to understand what the green claim actually means. When we understand what companies are doing with their sustainable or environmentally friendly claims, there is accountability and that can only happen with transparency.

The “smell test” helps understand greenwashing, but transparency is everything

From a consumer perspective, it’s always good to put a little bit of research into the products that we’re buying and to verify the claims that they’re trying to sell. The best test is the common sense test: does it make sense and how does it work? 

But we know that this fix certainly isn’t up to you alone. On the business end of things, increasing transparency and making data available to consumers is one of the best ways to avoid getting caught up in greenwashing. In life and in business, we believe that honesty is the best policy.

We’re building Clearloop to be a transparent and science-backed tool for companies to invest in cleaning up the grid and expanding access to clean energy. Instead of talking and (over)stating the green-ness of companies, the most important thing is to actually *do* and lend a hand in the global effort against climate change. 

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