Corporate social responsibility and the risk of greenwashing

The company cannot aim only at profit, but also at protecting society and safeguarding the environment. Hence Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

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Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

Consumers are increasingly attentive to the environmental issue and push companies to achieve and, consequently communicate, not only economic, but also environmental and social results. However, some companies, considering the economic and social advantages obtainable from a company policy attentive to the environmental issue, define their products as “eco-friendly”, without any real proof or demonstration of their commitment to sustainable development.

In recent decades the consumer has taken an active role in the strategies of companies. With a more critical attitude, customers tend to rely more on companies that are attentive to the environmental and social issue.

This has led to a change in the strategy, organization and communication of companies, which must be able to operate in an ethical and moral way, but, at the same time, must be able to communicate the results achieved in the correct way.

The company, therefore, cannot aim only at profit, but also at protecting society and safeguarding the environment. From this reasoning we arrive at Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

CSR: growth and development opportunities for companies

Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR means the voluntary commitment of companies to protect society and the environment, creating strategies in which there is compatibility between social and economic responsibility and improving their opportunities for growth and competitiveness.

Considering the environmental variable as the fulcrum of corporate strategies can offer to the company potential beneficial effects in terms of image, reputation and trust.

A company famous for its concrete and real commitment to sustainability, will have a greater chance of being able to retain those customers who will feel protagonists, together with the company, of actions aimed at safeguarding the planet.

In addition to this, if environmental protection becomes central for the company, an increase in investments in technological innovation is inevitable in order to make processes and products less impactful.

In this way, company resources (raw materials, energy and workforce) are used more productively, making the company more competitive.

Furthermore, in order to benefit from a better image, visibility and reputation among customers, the company must be able not only to operate in an ethical and moral way, but also to communicate it in the best possible way.

By informing the subjects interested in the company (customers, suppliers and investors) of the economic, social and environmental results achieved, the companies ensure their full trust and a non-negligible competitive advantage compared to those companies accused of excessive pollution and not worry about the environmental issue.

Greenwashing: the fake commitment of companies in favor of sustainable development

The communication of the company’s commitment in favor of the environment can therefore lead to the acquisition of important market segments dominated by more “responsible” consumers.

However, it is possible that some companies may take advantage of this market trend, resulting in misleading and untruthful communication. In this regard, it is about greenwashing.

For greenwashing, can be defined all those untrue marketing practices and communication campaigns that aim to deceive the consumer, for example, highlighting the “green” characteristics of a particular product without offering any evidence capable of establishing that it is indeed a sustainable asset.

Greenwashing can also be used by companies to “distract” the consumer. It is possible, in fact, that companies carry out an advertising campaign on a particular product, which is more eco-friendly than those traditionally sold, to mask other business sectors that have obvious shortcomings in terms of attention to the environmental issue and sustainable development.

How to defend yourself against greenwashing?

To avoid being deceived it is necessary to pay attention to what you are buying and to the manufacturing company.

If a particular product is defined as 100% environmentally friendly without any documentation (or very sparse), without data demonstrating its actual sustainability and if the communication is not clear and is misleading, then it is possible that it is greenwashing.

Furthermore, if we have any suspicions, it is possible to inform us online about the company policy and, above all, about the nature of the product or company certification. In fact, there are a series of environmental certifications both for products (environmental labels of type I, II ,, III) and process (ISO 14001; EMAS) capable of countering the phenomenon of greenwashing:

  • Environmental labels of type I (ISO 14024): the mark is granted only to products that have a reduced environmental impact (and can only be obtained thanks to the certification of a third and independent body). A very common example is certainly the Ecolabel.
  • Environmental labels of type II (ISO 14021): these are self-declarations provided by manufacturers. They relate to the ecological characteristics of the product and must be accurate, verifiable and not misleading. For this reason is required the use of scientifically verified and proven methodologies, which allow to obtain reliable results.
  • Environmental labels of type III (ISO 14025): these are the so-called “Environmental Product Declarations” (EPD) which provide information on products and services relating to potential environmental impacts referring to the entire life cycle. Furthermore, all information is verified by an accredited and independent body.
  • EMAS certification and ISO 14001 certification: which allow companies to certify the validity of their environmental management system.

There are, therefore, a series of tools capable of proving the environmental performance of a product and company processes, and which allow consumers to be guided towards truly sustainable purchases.

Knowing the phenomenon of greenwashing it is possible to defend oneself from misleading communication, preventing the proliferation of unfair practices towards consumers and companies that are really committed to the environment and sustainable development.

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