How to Avoid 'Greenwashing' as an SME

How to Avoid 'Greenwashing' as an SME

Donald Moore, Chair of B Corporation Rowlinson Knitwear, discusses what organisations must do if they're to take the UK's goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 seriously

By Donald Moore

Britain has a legally binding target to create a carbon-neutral economy by cutting emissions to net-zero by 2050. However, there are still many UK organisations that aren't prioritising the green agenda and are, instead, 'greenwashing' over the issue with initiatives that are more about brand image and PR. Here Donald Moore, Chair of B Corporation schoolwear supplier, Rowlinson Knitwear, discusses what organisations must do if they're to truly take the goal of net-zero emissions seriously.

The problem with 'greenwashing' 

Far too many companies are viewing green initiatives as a ‘tick box’ exercise in which measures are introduced to populate the corporate social responsibility section of their annual reports. 

Although car share schemes, cycle-to-work initiatives and tree planting partnerships are worthwhile in their own right, it's important to ensure companies are assessing how they operate at a deeper level as opposed to just creating a few light-touch campaigns. Behaving sustainably should be a strategic choice rather than a fun or temporary campaign.

Meeting B Corp standards

Sustainability must be considered when planning how an organisation operates, shaping purpose, values and commercial strategies. This means engaging all stakeholders including employees, customers, partners and suppliers, and thinking and acting sustainably across every department and at every stage of the business’ operations.

This may seem a big ask, however organisations don’t have to figure out their environmental approach alone. There’s a business movement which provides robust guidance on how to influence environmental as well as social change in a positive and truly effective way – The B Corporation (or B Corp) movement.

Achieving B Corp certification is the highest standard available for verifying a company’s social and environmental performance. In fact, B Corps give as much consideration to their impact on society and the environment as they do to their financial returns, with certified companies legally required to consider how their decisions affect workers, customers, suppliers and the community as well as the environment. 

By measuring a company’s entire social and environmental performance, from supply chain and input materials through to charitable giving and employee benefits, organisations are well and truly put under the microscope.

Cutting carbon emissions

Achieving B Corp status can be a meticulous and time-consuming process which requires substantial evidence of performance and impacts. Those companies that may not be able to dedicate themselves to achieving B Corp right now can still make changes to cut their carbon emissions.

The starting point is to gain the buy-in of all stakeholders (leaders, colleagues, customers and suppliers), with a focus on educating them about the facts of the climate crisis. Only once all stakeholders are engaged in the company’s environmental mission, will change be possible.

Next, it’s vital to understand the company’s total carbon emissions - leaders must measure and monitor their emissions and then set targets for reduction. Partnering with a sustainability expert such as The Planet Mark, can help with measuring carbon footprints and target setting.

Once the targets have been agreed, it’s time to look at ways to make incremental improvements. These could include the following:

1. Switching to a hybrid or fully electric fleet of vehicles

Along with making adjustment to your business fleet, such as by switching to electric cars, you can also review energy consumption at your business premises and seek reductions. A PV solar system is also a great investment which will reduce carbon emissions while saving money and perhaps even making money (for excess electricity put into the grid).

2. Improving waste management

By switching to a ‘green’ waste management supplier, the majority of a company’s waste should be able to be recycled. Review business processes and engage employees (and other stakeholders) in 'reduce and reuse' campaigns. Perhaps single-use plastics and excess packaging can be removed from the supply chain, and paper-based business processes could be replaced with electronic document management solutions.

3. Educate your staff

It's also worth looking into how you could initiate an education programme so employees learn (and continue to learn) about the climate crisis and the steps they can take to reduce carbon emissions. The Carbon Literacy Project is a charitable organisation that can support companies with carbon literacy learning, covering climate change, carbon footprints and how companies and individuals can make a difference.

Delivering real change

When it comes to the climate crisis, we don’t have the luxury of time. Dramatic changes are needed by all organisations if there’s a chance of meeting the UK's 2050 targets. The B Corp movement is pushing for change and with many more  organisations gaining certification, this will create a new wave of ‘force for good’ businesses operating within a carbon-neutral economy. 

Every business must recognize the part it plays in bringing about net-zero emissions and not rely solely on the Government to force change. From altering how company vehicles are fuelled and offices are powered through to greener business processes and carbon literacy programmes, change is possible and the time to deliver it is now.

About the Author

Donald Moore is the Chair of Rowlinson Knitwear, a Certified B Corp and employee-owned business that supplies affordable, durable garments to independent schoolwear retailers. Rowlinson is a full member of the Ethical Trading Initiative, an accredited Living Wage employer and a member of Greater Manchester’s Good Employment Charter.