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Guest column: Key points in avoiding greenwashing

By Derek Young

Green labels, green standards, green marketing— the marketplace has become saturated with products making claims about how they are sustainable, environmentally friendly, eco-friendly or greener than the competition. Add this to the increasing number of companies who regularly talk about their sustainability story, positioning themselves as a “green business.”

It’s no wonder so many customers and end users are confused by all the white noise they have to deal with when trying to make an informed decision on which products to purchase and companies to do business with due to what they are doing to benefit the environment. In fact, the very term “greenwashing” was created to explain this phenomenon, defined as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.”

A key to a company’s success in these often troubling waters is its integrity and its ability to substantiate claims for what they are, not for what they want others to view them to mean. That is why it is so important to apply the basic principle of transparency; that is, say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Big risk

A company that makes claims but cannot back them up with substantive proof risks losing credibility and trust. Alternatively, a company that chooses to do good things but does not talk about them risks losing market share in industries where it is increasingly important to confirm with customers a commitment to sustainable practices.

The company that ultimately leads is the one doing the right things, for the right reasons, and is making sure to speak out about what it is doing in a way that is truthful, accurate and substantiated.

For example, at Invista, we believe we owe our Stainmaster and Antron customers accurate, dependable and credible information. We strive to take exceptional care of our marketing and technical claims, ensuring they are appropriately reviewed internally and, when appropriate, by credible third parties. To us, sustainability is a part of our market based management (MBM) culture, which has foundational principles such as compliance, acting with integrity and understanding and anticipating the needs of our customers.

Doing this helps us remain a credible arbiter of information so that our claims may be viewed as legitimate when we make them. And, for our customers—whether it is a retailer, contractor, architect, designer, specifier—they can believe and feel confident in repeating them to their customers. Being open and honest is also good for end users as they are sources of information for friends, family and business associates.

In my opinion, this is the only way to truly avoid the risk of greenwashing.