Gaslighting, Gatekeeping, Greenwashing(?)

Going green is a more important business strategy than ever, as sustainability standards and goals are becoming points of impact. The surge toward a green-driven economy is a great incentive for companies to implement more eco-conscious decision-making. But not all companies have embraced the changes and costs associated with going green. Enter the art of greenwashing.

Greenwashing, a term coined in 1986, describes tactics organizations use to try to trick consumers into believing they supply environmentally friendly products and implement sustainable processes when they do not. Unfortunately, greenwashing is much more common than you think and often difficult to spot.

Werner Enterprises is a company that takes pride in its efforts to set and exceed sustainability and environmental goals. With transparency at the center of their efforts, Werner is committed to making continuous strides towards a reduced carbon footprint.

Here are some ways to avoid buying from a greenwashing company.

Pictures shouldn’t be worth a thousand words

A company may attempt to greenwash a consumer by using product labels or advertisements that center around nature, animals, the color green and more. The message is typically centered on sustainability, or an environmentally friendly product created by the company. Don’t be fooled! Think about the product you’re buying. Just because that 24-pack of plastic water bottles has a waterfall and some woodland creatures on it doesn’t mean it won’t sit in a landfill for the next 300 years. It’s 2022. Invest in a sustainable water bottle.

All Talk, No Action

Companies looking to entice an eco-conscious consumer will throw around words like “eco-friendly” and “natural” without explaining what or how those words fit the product. Suppose a description includes these words but still seems extremely vague. You may be getting greenwashed. This can also be seen as click-baiting consumers. Companies may give an explanation using language and labels that signal an environmentally friendly product or procedure yet provide a link that takes consumers to something that doesn’t adhere to those promises.

Take your time and do your research before investing. If a company is proud of its commitment to sustainability, you should have no problem finding its explanation.

The Lesser of Two Evils

A company may make one small part of its product or manufacturing process eco-friendly and market it endlessly, even if the bulk of the product or process is still very harmful to the environment. Greenwashing can also be seen in the form of a company marketing its recycling program but failing to address that the company is also a consistent contributor to avoidable river pollution. A company truly committed to going green may have to choose one or two sustainable practices when starting a green initiative. Still, it will almost always have discernible public goals for changes it plans to make going forward.

Paying attention to the other companies that a company endorses, partners with or purchases from is also an essential aspect of your research process. Werner Enterprises prides itself on working with truck and trailer manufacturers with clear, outlined commitments to sustainability and plans to reduce emission productions and eco-centric efforts made in the manufacturing process. Transportation is often seen as an industry with major contributions to mankind’s carbon footprint, so it is important to Werner to align itself with companies looking to make changes for a greener planet.

Outright Contradictions

The effort to greenwash a consumer may also come in the form of putting sustainable terminology alongside verbiage that promotes a negative connotation. For example, if a company says it is responsible for putting “all-natural, biodegradable sewage” into the local pond, that should raise an immediate red flag. Watch how a company chooses to pair its language and craft descriptions. This may be more deceptive than you expect.

PROOF!

If a company is genuinely going green, it will take pride in it. A sustainability commitment should be easy to access, easy to understand and provide an outline for what is being done and what is to come. Similarly, if a company has received any awards based on sustainability commitments or practices, articles and press releases about those awards should be easy to find.

Last year, Werner launched its inaugural Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) report.  This report highlights the history of the company’s sustainability journey and commitments to sustainability in the future and introduces new commitments and steps to be taken going forward. The report features hard numbers and statistics and public goals to keep leaders accountable in their efforts toward creating a more sustainable workplace.   This year, Werner will provide a progress report for the goals that we have set, so that our stakeholders can see how we are doing against the goals that we have set for ourselves.

Learning to analyze the imagery, calling out the contradictions and deciphering the proof are key skills necessary when it comes to navigating the landscape of support for companies committed to a greener future. While greenwashing is a tactic that likely won’t disappear, consumers can arm themselves with the tools necessary to make educated and eco-conscious choices.

by Shawntell Kroese