Spotting GreenWash

As published in FM World

We are all wary of false claims for products.  This is true everywhere but it is especially galling in the environmental field where doing it right or simply offering GreenWash can mean the difference between more or less damage to our incredible planet.

There are two types of GreenWash:  blatant lies and subtle half truths.  The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines Greenwash as “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”   And it’s getting worse: the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) says that the number of complaints relating to environmental or green claims, has more than quadrupled in the past year.

In the waste disposal field there is any number of examples of waste management companies making false claims to properly handle waste.  I’ve uncovered firms handling hazardous waste with no licences to do so, a firm claiming to shred confidential documents that didn’t even have a shredder.  A few years ago there was an infamous case of a firm claiming to incinerate clinical waste when actually it was storing it in 40 ft containers.  The stench became unbearable and the Environment Agency had to send in specially protected officers to clear the containers!

The disinformation can be much more subtle as well – sometimes a logo of a green organisation is placed on a label or on a website.  Sometimes it’s a nice sounding generic statement such as “We’re a green hotel because you can elect not to have your sheets washed” or “We’re the greenest transport company because we route our vehicles the most efficient way possible” or “We’re the best waste company because we recycle a large % of waste”

How do you combat that?  You use the FM managers traditional armoury: Diligence and Scepticism.

Ask questions.  Where a service is very cheap (as the clinical waste service was) ask the obvious – how do you do it?  More importantly visit the site, check the documents and consult the appropriate authority.  Where a grand claim is made, delve a bit deeper.  How does the company incentivise green behaviour?  How much has it invested in green technology. What specifically are you going to do for me?

Get specific:  Does the hotel use renewable power? Has it invested its own money in energy efficiency?  Has the transport company invested in efficient trucks, are the drivers trained in fuel efficient driving, are they rewarded for economy?  How does the waste company measure the recycling %?  What will actually happen to the waste you have?   More importantly do they reuse anything? Reuse is much better for the environment in a most cases than recycling.

So the golden rule for spotting greenwash is challenge, ask questions and if you’re not sure ask a friend..