Many businesses look to market themselves as “green” as a way of taking advantage of the growing interest in green business and sustainability. Unfortunately, this has led to many accusations of “green washing” when companies simply put a new label on old products or business practices. Many companies are therefore asking themselves “When IS it acceptable to promote our business as being ‘green’?”
Partly, that depends on how you define ‘green’ and ‘sustainable.’ The way I look at it, a business cannot be dark ‘green’ until it leaves no negative impact whatsoever on the environment. There is no waste generated, no toxins released, no animals are harmed, all energy comes from renewable sources – the list is long. Obviously, this is a very high if not impossible threshold. So no company is ever in a position to promote itself as already being ‘green’.
The better approach is to promote your business as being on the path of becoming more ‘green’ or more ‘sustainable’, particularly as compared to the competition in its industry. You may think that we’re just quibbling about semantics, but the difference between having achieved “green-ness” and striving towards “green-ness” matters a whole lot both within the company and to the outside world. If you state that your company is already ‘green’, then there is no incentive to keep improving your performance. You may also leave the company wide open to very harsh treatment by outside critics, as BP Amoco did when it tried to dump more sludge in Lake Michigan, and had pipe leakage problems in Alaska. BP Amoco would almost certainly not have received such harsh treatment if they had not placed themselves on such a high pedestal when promoting BP as standing for “Beyond Petroleum.”
Does this mean that you should never promote your company’s green business culture or practices? Of course not. You just have to be clear about what you’re trying to achieve by bragging about your ‘green’ initiatives, and whether you’ve done the necessary work to make such claims.