Fake Green Comes Out in the Wash
By Samuel Greengard
The proof that sustainability has emerged as a top enterprise issue is in the sheer number of companies introducing green products and trumpeting their accomplishments to shareholders and the public. There are approximately 73 percent more green products on the market today than only four years ago, according to Underwriters Laboratory.
While a fair number of organizations view green as a way to help reduce their carbon footprint and trim internal costs, many executives also view sustainability as a valuable marketing tool. Switch on the TV or browse a magazine and that much is entirely obvious.
Of course, there's no shame in trumpeting an organization's accomplishments, as long as it's possible to back up the claims with accurate facts and figures. Unfortunately, as a growing number of whistleblowing Websites point out (including The Greenwashing Index, The Sins of Greenwashing and Stopgreenwash.org), there are way too many exaggerations, distortions and outright fabrications. In fact, The Sins of Greenwashing contends that 95 percent of products claiming to be green were found to commit at least one of the seven sins of greenwashing.
Although claims of greenwashing are somewhat a matter of perspective—and, clearly, different people and organizations analyze facts differently—playing on the razor's edge or stepping far beyond the truth presents risks. Yes, some businesses manage to fly under the radar or get a free pass but many others wind up in the crosshairs of the news media or watch a problem explode in social media. And once a downward viral spiral starts it's next to impossible to stop.
CIOs can play a key role in helping an organization achieve honesty and transparency. It's essential to establish IT systems and metrics to measure results and ensure that the right information is collected and put to use. But savvy executives go a step further and introduce software and systems that create a framework for data integrity—for everything from environmental practices to human rights and fair trade. They also examine practices throughout the product lifecycle and entire supply chain.
While some companies, including Seventh Generation, Starbucks and Google, have emerged as superstars in the sustainability arena, the reality is that most businesses continue to struggle with the concept. Know this: the situation isn't going to get any easier in the years ahead, particularly as younger consumers exert greater clout on the marketplace.
Greenwash at your own risk.
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. You can read his previous CIO Insight blog post, "Taking Analytics to the C-Level," by clicking here.