The Greenwashing Trap: Lessons in Sustainability From the Brands Doing it Right

Eimear O'RiordanCampaigns & Product Marketing AssociateHuckletree05/07/2021

Shopping sustainably can be a minefield but in the last few years we’ve seen a societal shift towards eco-consciousness and the desire to prioritise products that are good for our planet.

Our preferences have changed and we’re making it known by speaking with our spend. In response, we’ve seen many companies shift their offering to become more sustainable and planet-friendly. Which can only be a good thing, right? 

Unfortunately, it seems many brands are guilty either unintentionally, or in the more sinister cases knowingly, of greenwashing. It’s a serious case of all talk and no action. But for every guilty greenwasher, there’s people innovating and making a real impact. We’re exploring three companies that are doing it right, so you can too.

Patagonia

It’s difficult to have a conversation about sustainable companies without mentioning Patagonia. They’re doing it well and they’ve been doing it a while. In 2019 they even received the UN Champion of the Earth award in the Outstanding Entrepreneurial Vision category. So why are they considered a leader in sustainability? Their eco mandate is based on three main pillars: product, donations and activism.

Product: They run a programme called the ‘ Worn Wear Program’, an online shop where customers can buy and sell second hand Patagonia products. This encourages customers to buy used products rather than new ones, reducing the volume of new products entering the cycle. They’re also using sustainable materials in their products; their cotton is certified organic, a high proportion of their fabrics are made from recycled fabrics and some are even blue sign certified.

Donations: Patagonia are also very well known for their philanthropic endeavours. Their 1% for the planet programme is a case in point and ensures that 1% of the company’s annual sales goes to good causes. Plus, the programme encourages other companies to join the pledge with current members including fellow eco-warriors Honest Tea and Boxed Water.

Activism:They’re also not afraid to put it all on the line to get behind a cause they care about. In the past few years, they’ve put aside traditional promotional marketing in exchange for activism promotion. They’ve even made a few headlines with their political campaigns including Vote the a**holes out, or The President stole your land. Their campaigns are often connected to petitions that actually help move the needle.

Lesson in sustainability:There’s more than one way to skin a cat. You shouldn’t just lean into one sustainable practice and be done with it. Think about how you incorporate sustainability into every aspect of your company and culture.

Ørsted

Hailed as ‘the world’s most sustainable company’ Ørsted have made it their mission to create a world that runs entirely on green energy. Over the last ten years they’ve transformed themselves from one of Europe's most carbon intensive companies to a leader in clean, green energy. They achieved the shift by taking the lead in the acceleration of the phasing out of fossil-fuelled power generation. Now, they’re on track to become carbon neutral by 2025. Ørsted is also taking decarbonisation beyond their own walls, targeting net-zero emissions across their entire carbon footprint by 2040, which they'll do by decarbonising supply chains, improving biodiversity protection and creating shared value with local communities.

Lesson in sustainability:It’s never too late to turn things around. Set yourself goals and pivot your practices one by one to reach them. Small wins pile up and before you know it you could also be one of the world's most sustainable companies.

Notpla

Notpla is leading the charge in eliminating single use plastics with their sustainable packaging. All their products are made from one of nature's most renewable resources: brown seaweed. Seaweed grows up to 1m per day, doesn’t compete with food crops, doesn’t need fresh water or fertiliser and actively contributes to de-acidifying our oceans. The material biodegrades in six to eight weeks and is suitable for home composting, allowing them to literally create a water bottle you can eat. You can encase any liquid you desire in their jelly-like membrane made of algae and calcium chloride, which they call an Ooho. They even trialled the concept at the London Marathon in 2019 and eliminated the use of plastic bottles and cups at the event. Notpla are in their infancy in comparison to the other companies on this list - so what are their next steps? Well, they’ve set themselves a goal of eliminating the one billion plastic bottles reaching our oceans every year, and the 300 million kilograms of carbon emissions that go with them. Notpla plans to lease their Ooho machines to businesses so they can produce and fill Oohos daily on-site, rather than taking up storage space (and delivery miles) with stock. Best of all, as well as using nine times less energy to produce, Ooho has the potential to be cost competitive with plastic.

Lesson in sustainability: You don’t need to be a massive company with limitless budget and reach to make an impact. It’s about ingenuity, purpose and commitment. Where there’s a will there’s a way and really great ideas make a massive impact.


Eimear O'Riordan

Eimear started in the Huckletree White City community team before moving into Marketing as our social media and videography lead. You'll find her in our spaces shooting content and mingling with members. Superpower: karaoke powerhouse.

eimear@huckletree.comLinkedIn

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