What's Greenwashing and how to avoid this practice

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

Companies are looking for new strategies for environmentally friendly positioning. However, are they really creating new sustainable ideas or is it just a Greenwashing practice?

Greenwashing como evitar

Environment is the “keyword” these days. Preservation of our planet's resources has become one of the most important issues, after all, it is an urgent global agenda that cannot be postponed any longer.

In the meantime, a fundamental question comes into play. Are companies practicing sustainable actions or just greenwashing?

When sustainable behavior is anchored in the attitudes of people then sustainability is achieved. Such responsible environmentally practices that make a difference in the lives of people, in the environment and in the society.

However, in the other hand, when discussion about sustainable practices is not aligned with day-to-day practices, sustainability becomes what is termed as greenwashing, that is, only an idea is sold that cannot be sustained.

Greenwashing is a term used for private, governmental or non-governmental institutions, that use marketing techniques to establish a misleading perception of support for the environment. The goal is to win widespread support. A great danger is that greenwashing hides or diverts the focus from the real environmental damage caused by its activities.

Sustainability and its impact on companies

The issues of sustainable responsibility are shared by all of society: conscious citizens, public power and, also, private entities. All are protagonists. Companies are aware of this reality and work on these values of environmental responsibility in their daily lives. If they still do not act directly, they are at least getting acquainted with the matter and looking for new solutions. Sustainability is a path of no return in the corporate environment.


t is good to remember that the Stockholm Conference of 1972, organized by the United Nations (UN) where sustainability was the global agenda for the first time, was convened by the economy's core of the organization due to an economic concern about the environmental impact it can have in on our quality and way of life.

Among business leaders there is a certain concern about environmental issues. In fact, many decisions in the corporate world are closely related to the behavior of current consumers, who act as true environmental inspectors. They are attentive to the values and actions practiced by companies in relation to sustainability. More than looking, consumers are demanding a responsible stand from companies on this topic.

Thus, when a company has a weak viewpoint of sustainability, consumers as well as the general media and the third sector, not only talk about it but do so primarily by means of social media, in addition to no longer consuming their products or services. , In the same way, these players recognize, value, support and even promote brands that preserve natural resources and demonstrate an attitude of real commitment to the environment. Therefore, there is no margin for errors and for greenwashing practices.

No wonder, many companies are widely publicizing their environmentally practices responsibly. They want to widely show their ecological awareness as a strategic positioning tool and for a competitive advantage. Such positioning is based on four essential principles:

  1. Ecologically friendly.

  2. Economically viable.

  3. Socially just.

  4. Culturally accepted.

In addition, of course, to the well-known three R's: reduce, recycle and reuse.

“Sustainability is a global issue and one that deserves extreme attention. More than appreciating good practices, it is time to act and move forward, especially from a corporate point of view. When companies understand and exalt the values of ESG, which measure social, environmental and governance practices, the results are profound and their market value grows exponentially”, comments the Specialist in ESG and VG Group's CEO. Bruno Watanabe.

Greenwashing Cases

There are many examples of greenwashing practices in marketing. Greenwashing (a play on the word ‘whitewash”) which means using misleading information to dismiss bad behavior and deceive the public, especially consumers. In summary, it is the masking an of the inadequate and contradictory posture of a company in relation to the green marketing discussion. In some cases, it seems like a desperate move rather than acting in bad faith. However, the consumers nor the market forgives.

Examples of greenwashing practices:

  • Bait and switch: Companies that advertise products as being is ecologically friendly for changing something harmful in its composition and does not take into consideration its negative impact of its production.

  • Or a in the hotel chains, where they appear to go "green" by saving on not changing the towels daily because every day, but at the same time, in fact, do very little to save water or energy while in the back office.

  • ·Or multiple businesses in the same building a that use large amounts of energy to power their services, but then state that t they will plant trees to help reduce CO2 emissions, when in fact there is no mitigation control in their work process.

  • Or companies that promote their goods as being environmentally friendly by using recycled materials and facilitating environmental information awareness about their product, but then establishes a factory or megastore in an Ecological Reserve or exploits natural resources.

  • ·Unproven: when environmental statements are made that cannot be proven by accessible information or by a reliable third-party certification. Common examples are companies that claim to use recyclable composition of their products or recycle packing material without providing evidence.

  • ·Vagueness: when they use vague and ill-defined statements without providing any detail or explanation of sound environmental viewpoints regarding the product, leaving the consumer in doubt about its real meaning.

  • Unsubstantiated Claims: it can be appealing, but it does not help consumers find environmentally friendly products. It is widely used to infer that such a product does not have a harmful substance to it, but the use of this substance is already prohibited by law.

  • Least of concerns: may have an appeal, bu it is said that the product may contain a small amount of a substance that generates several impacts to the environment. However, it has a negative impact even having a little of this product. It is an appeal that serves to distract the consumer from a much greater impact. It happens a lot in plastic packaging that reduces its weight, but the negative impact generated is the same

Sustainable Practices Vs Greenwashing

“Before implementing a green marketing and sustainability strategy, it is important to structure the practices internally, as well as consult with experts on this subject matter. As much as this is an issue present in companies, it is always possible to evolve, and avoid falling into pitfalls”, suggests Bruno Watanabe.

People are increasingly aware; we are in the Information Age and mere speeches are no longer accepted. The time has come to apply sustainable values through real projects that impact the micro and the macro and, in this sense, look at the characteristics of a company's building premise. The following are 10 tips to avoid Greenwashing practices in Construction and Building projects:

10 Tips to Avoid Greenwashing in Buildings

Sustentabilidade na Construção
Mega tendências em sustentabilidade

1. Have sustainability as your premise in planning

Planning must privilege the rational use of materials, energy and water in all its stages, from feasibility studies to execution and delivery;

2. Invest in quality labor

Make sure that your suppliers and work team have control over the processes they will perform, and that they can perform them efficiently.

3. Use Quality Materials

Quality materials guarantee the durability of the construction, avoiding recurrent repairs or major interventions in the building.

4. Go for Energy Efficiency

To reduce energy consumption where possible. Explore clean energy sources such as photovoltaic and OPV systems.

5. Make better use of Natural Resources

Natural resources such as solar power, vegetation, green roof, vertical gardens and air currents can be used in projects, which can provide thermal comfort with low energy consumption for the building.

6. Separate waste types

To separate waste during the building construction and operation, helps to know what will be reused or recycled correctly.

7. Manage Water Use

To reduce the consumption of water resources by managing, defining and monitoring processes such as a system for capturing rainwater or implementing sustainable sewage systems (Wetlands).

8. Reduce greenhouse gases (GHG)

Make an inventory and mitigate the greenhouse gases of the building. Learn about carbon offset strategies or wetlands for slurry and sewage treatment in buildings and industries and mitigate carbon dioxide and methane generated by organic waste.

9. Use Materials Wisely

Investing in sustainable products and technologies and carrying out smart purchases, avoids materials waste.

10. Think about the Operation (Opex)

Implement landscaping irrigation systems and cleaning common areas through captured rainwater or sustainable gray and black water treatment systems in buildings. Use remote water control systems and keep your building under control.

Conclusions to avoid Greenwashing

Although Greenwashing may seem attractive at first, as it brings products closer to sustainable ways, however using greenwashing can generate much more problems than benefits. The risk of irreparable damage to the image of a company and the aversion of consumers do not compensate for momentary exposure.

It is difficult to regain credibility once exposed to a scandal or when veracity of its behavior is being questioned.

Sustentabilidade e Greenwashing
Conceito de Triple Bottom Line & ESG

We hope that this information has helped you to avoid greenwashing practices and inform you of better methods of corporate sustainability.

The VG Group companies are specialists in the development, management and communication of ESG and of reliable sustainable projects. Talk to us and explore this topic further!



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