5 ways the built environment can avoid greenwashing

Posted on: 14 August, 2023

As an industry with such a pivotal role to play in the mission for a sustainable future, how can the built environment combat the rise of greenwashing?

Greenwashing is rife in the corporate world. In recent years, brands like McDonald’s, Ikea, H&M, and Ryanair have all been found guilty of trying to rebrand their products and operations as being more environmentally friendly than they actually are, and a report by the European Commission found that 42% of companies are ‘exaggerating’ their sustainability claims.

Learn more: What is greenwashing (and how does it impact the built environment)?

The built environment has a significant opportunity to combat greenwashing. As we continue working hard to reduce our contribution to global emissions and espouse sustainable practices, it’s vital that we stay vigilant to the signs of greenwashing and combat it, both in our own businesses and in the industry as a whole.

Here are five simple actions all built environment professionals and businesses can take to avoid greenwashing:

1. Back up any claims with data and evidence

Be confident in the claims you make and if you have evidence, share it with your audience and customers. If you’re uncertain in any way about the legitimacy of a claim or the accuracy of a statistic, don’t use it.

2. Review your messaging

As with being confident in the data and evidence behind claims to sustainability, use clear, precise language that isn’t vague. Avoid leaning heavily on common buzzwords like ‘natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’, and be careful about using terms with regulated definitions, like ‘plastic-free’.

3. Do the work

Businesses that talk the talk with sustainability should be able to walk the walk and prove they’re taking action. Rather than spinning a story or pushing a falsehood, look for ways your business is actually working towards sustainability and be proud to share them with your audience.

Learn more: Making a business case for sustainability: why now is the time to act

4. Double check your imagery

If you’re not actually making the effort to decarbonise or reduce the environmental impact of your operations, don’t use green imagery. This will create a disconnect with your customers and ultimately foster distrust towards your brand.

5. Make your goals realistic

Before agreeing to net zero energy goals that you can’t realistically obtain and falling guilty of greenrinsing, take the time to understand your company’s carbon footprint and set achievable goals. Having irrefutable evidence and a history of environmental work will do more for your brand than resulting to vague or unsubstantiated claims.

Learn more: 8 types of greenwashing (and how to spot them)

Final thoughts

We all have a part to play in fighting climate change and protecting the future of our environment. By familiarising ourselves with how greenwashing occurs and reflecting on how we approach discussions around sustainability, we can all hold each other to account and stay on target for our sustainability goals.

Sustainability isn’t a passing trend – it’s here to stay and is constantly evolving. If you want to inspire and action change in your career, UCEM’s MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments will give you the skills you need, both now and in the future.

Find out more: MSc Innovation in Sustainable Built Environments – University College of Estate Management