Avoid the greenwashing trap: The key to business sustainability

Avoid the greenwashing trap: The key to business sustainability


‘Going green’ is no longer a fancy idea for most industries, but is now a necessity from the perspective of many consumers. Whether ahead of the curve or late to the party, nearly all brands and companies strive to present a ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ face to the public.

However, some of these brands are under fire from sceptics around the world, who claim their green initiatives are nothing more than ‘greenwashing’ – where sustainability communications misrepresent the company’s true intent and behaviour.

For instance, a global review led by the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN) found as many as 40% of environmental claims could be using tactics that could be considered misleading.

When your ‘go green’ efforts are being unappreciated, or worse, ridiculed, it not only damages your company’s reputation, but also your enthusiasm for the cause. The question now is, how do you go green without being accused of greenwashing? And more importantly, how can your green initiatives not only enhance your corporate image, but bring tangible value to your bottom line?

Actions speak louder than words
An old-fashioned saying indeed, but true nonetheless. With the internet serving as an omnipresent auditor and inspector (or whistle-blower, depending on your company’s actual practices), no practice or decision can escape the public eye – and the consequences that come with it.

Hence, all brands must not only practice what they preach, but also show it with full transparency. For example, the electronics industry has long been vilified for the huge amount of waste generated by their products and packaging. This has compelled many industry giants to adopt more ‘green’ elements in their products, and of course they are not shy about showing it.

At the famed CES 2022 earlier this year, brands such as HP put in extra effort to showcase their new products’ environmentally friendly credentials. A significant portion of their launch promotions were dedicated to explaining how their packaging materials, products or overall business strategies contribute to their green commitments.

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Source from HP website

Go green, not red
Adopting a green model should not mean putting your company in the red. A common prejudice or misconception held by many is that ‘going green’ means higher costs and lower profits. Hence many companies’ reluctance to commit to an environmentally friendly business model. But this is nothing but the product of an uninspiring and unimaginative mindset.

True ‘sustainability’ should not only apply to the environment, but also to your business – and bloating your budget just to meet environmentally friendly requirements clearly is not sustainable. Instead, we should dare to think outside the box and explore better methods or even develop new techniques which are effective, efficient, and of course, environmentally friendly.

Take SplashMania in Malaysia, Asia’s largest rainforest-themed water park, as an example. Appointed to provide design and construction services to the park, Pico’s answer to the demand for ‘new techniques’ was prefabrication – large-scale modular components which are constructed off-site and rapidly assembled on-site.

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By adopting this method via Pico’s facility in Johor, the project team was able to deliver higher quality in a shorter timeframe while keeping costs predictable and controlled. As a bonus, compared to traditional construction methods, prefabrication on average generates less material waste, requires less operational energy, and causes less disruption to the construction site and surrounding community.

Don’t find substitutes; find better alternatives
In order to meet environmental or social distancing requirements, many brands and event organisers strained to devise various ‘substitutes’ for in-person engagements. Some simply created digital versions of their original events. But while this certainly avoided producing construction and operational waste, it ultimately tainted the final projects with an aura of ‘nearly as good as the original plan’.

A smarter way is to truly embrace the new environment and technologies and explore better alternatives to enhance, not replace, your projects. A notable example would be utilisation of the metaverse to foster customer communities, instead of relying on traditional physical events. The metaverse has gained much traction during pandemic lockdowns, and big names like Disney, Meta and Gucci have already joined in the hype.

Meta’s metaverse ambitions are particularly widely known at this point. Among its array of projects and initiatives, the FB4Fans virtual event was one of Meta’s first steps in building metaverse communities for Asia-Pacific. Conceptualised and empowered by Pico, it brought together creators and fans from around the world in a mobile-first platform which offered an intimate immersive virtual reality experience with exclusive content in AR and various games.

Source from Pico Global Facebook Page

The primary difference between ‘substitutes’ and ‘better alternatives’ is in the mindset: brands and companies should not ‘adapt to new challenges’, but rather ‘capitalise on the new environment’. Only by embracing new ideas and technologies can brands create products in tune with ever-changing market preferences.

Going green is a process, not a statement
A company cannot go green overnight, any more than we can ‘fix’ the environment in a day. Any sincere green initiative is a long-term commitment and gradual process. No companies can simply declare themselves ‘green’ and expect the public to believe it. Instead, establish the rubrics for measuring the company’s green efforts, and set an ambitious yet realistic goal to gradually transform your business structure and practice, and to slowly build up your reputation.

In conclusion, even though ‘go green’ has become a requirement for brands – and scepticism of ‘greenwashing’ is greater than ever – it is still possible to go green and be appreciated for it. The key is to adopt genuine practices with full transparency, strive for innovative techniques and embrace the new environment for improvements. It can all be done without sacrificing business performance – the way true sustainability should be.