Sustainability Reporting

Strategies for avoiding greenwashing

March 18, 2024

The asset management arm of Deutsche Bank, DWS, came under investigation for allegations of greenwashing. German authorities were responding to reports that ESG factors were not such a key part of investment decision-making, as it was purported to be.

At almost the same time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which recently released a proposed directive targeting greenwashing, launched a probe into Goldman Sachs for the same issue. Earlier in the year, Bank of New York Mellon was fined $1 million for misleading investors about its ESG investing approach.

Find out how you can be avoiding greenwashing here.

What constitutes greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to the practice of misleading or deceptive claims made by companies or organizations regarding the environmental benefits or sustainability of their products, services, or practices. It involves presenting a false or exaggerated image of environmental responsibility. This false image is often used for marketing purposes.

Some common examples of greenwashing include:

  1. Vague or unsubstantiated claims: Companies may use terms like “eco-friendly” or “green” without providing specific details or evidence to support their claims.
  2. Irrelevant or misleading labels: Using labels or certifications that are unrelated to the actual environmental impact. This is giving a false impression of environmental friendliness to customers.
  3. Hidden trade-offs: Focusing on one aspect of a product's environmental impact while ignoring other significant negative impacts. For example, promoting a product as energy-efficient but neglecting to mention its use of environmentally harmful materials.
  4. Lack of transparency: Withholding or providing limited information about a company's environmental practices.
  5. False or misleading imagery: Using images, symbols, or graphics that create an impression of environmental responsibility.

Greenwashing can be misleading for consumers who are genuinely interested in supporting environmentally friendly products and practices.

Greenwashing risks: understanding and defining terminologies

Be specific with the terms you use. Carbon-neutral is not the same as climate positive, and net-zero does not equal zero emissions.

For example, if an investment fund is labelled as ‘ESG’ or ‘sustainable’, investors and regulators will be looking for other keywords in order to understand how exactly the product is sustainable. These could be ‘clean energy’, ‘gender lens’, ‘low carbon’, ‘SRI’, or ‘green sukuk’. Some of these terms such as socially responsible investments (SRI) come with their own qualifying criteria. So, use of these terms must be justified by meeting the criteria.

Vague use of broad terms like ‘green’, and ‘sustainable’ is a red flag. It’s easy to get away with using them as a catch-all phrase, and this is where you could come very close to the danger of greenwashing. Such claims must always be substantiated by proof that what you are doing is in fact sustainable.

Effective, clear, and transparent communication is extremely important to avoid greenwashing. Be very careful about the way you communicate your ESG efforts, especially when there is an element of marketing involved.

An example of skewed marketing is when a label states ‘made from 90% recycled material’ but it is not clear if this refers to the label itself or the attached product.

Ground reporting in data

In most cases, greenwashing is called for when there is a founded lack of tangible strategies to support a claim. Organizing, collecting, and leveraging physical data will help transition your old school CSR communications strategy to an actionable and transparent one. This data should be information based on actual consumption facts and not expenses.

This means selected thought out ESG metrics, that are not only harmonized with reporting frameworks and standards, but that also match your company’s unique approach.

Reporting on sustainability issues does not mean manipulating data in order to be all positive. It rather aims to demonstrate your journey, efforts, and overall vision as a company. Acknowledging your current weaknesses and pain points will only make you more relatable to your stakeholder and serve your better purpose in the long run.

How we help you

  • We help you avoid greenwashing risks by compelling exhaustive sets of internal and external data.
  • We provide a centralised platform to manage all your data, pulling data from enterprise software such as ERP, HRM, EMS, etc.
  • We advise you on the best reporting framework for your needs, as well as the related reporting criteria.
  • We offer insights powered by data analytics, enhancing your understanding of your sustainability performance and report strength.
  • We automate follow-ups to data sources, reminder emails and calculations and free up more time for you to do other things.


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