Designers and construction professionals are better informed about green claims, but how common is greenwashing?

In the design and construction industry, we are all too aware that sustainability and eco-consciousness is on the forefront of everyone’s minds. Whether it’s a client pursuing a Green Star Rating for their new office space or suppliers who are marketing their latest recycled products, everyone knows that green and energy efficient is the way to go.

In the past, ‘greenwashing’ – misleading or inaccurate claims about the positive impact of products on the environment – was a major concern in the industry. In a recent article by David Jenkin, owner and managing director of Green Queen Communications, Jodi Lynn Karpes defined Greenwashing as follows:

Greenwashing is when the full environmental impact of something is actually harmful to the environment and drains scarce resources. A green product strives for sustainability in every aspect of its production process and must take into consideration fuel/oil, water, electricity, time, materials and so on,” said Jodi.

While greenwashing was an important concern in the industry a few years ago, it appears that this practice is on the decline. American-based safety consulting and certification organisation, Underwriters Laboratory, has been tracking the issue and they have reported that 4.5% of products are now “greenwashing sin-free”, compared to only 2% in 2009. Over the same period, a dramatic uptake in ‘greening’ was revealed, with 73% of products claiming to be ‘green’ in 2010, an increase of 70% from 2009.

What counts as a greenwashing ‘sin’?

Underwriters Laboratory has listed the following as greenwashing sins:
•    Hidden trade-offs
•    No proof
•    Vagueness
•    Irrelevance
•    The lesser of two evils
•    Fibbing
•    Worshipping false labels

“Although the numbers are very small, the proportion of ‘sin-free’ products is increasing at a rate that is statistically significant … We need to be cautious in our interpretation of such small numbers, but we believe they’re early evidence of good news,” noted a report compiled by TerraChoice on the 2010 findings.

Media Updated approached Focal Points Analysis, who tracked and compared the use of two ‘greening’ terms in the local print media between 2013 and 2016. Their case study showed that the use of the word “environmentally friendly” (which is quite vague) was in decline while the use of the more meaningful term “sustainable” was rising.

Consumers are now more informed about the green benefits of products and so are able to make better decisions about investing in environmentally sustainable products. While Jodi notes that the practice of greenwashing is diminishing, she also commented that being green is more expensive and only a small percentage of the population are prepared to pay more for sustainability.

“It’s growing though, which eventually will equalise pricing. Business should embrace sustainability from the core and the rest will follow naturally. Live with the earth, not off it,” concludes Jodi.

Full thanks and acknowledgement are given to for the information contained in this article.