Home Greenwash, what it is, what it isn’t & why it’s important to understand it!

Being ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ in our industry is one of the biggest challenges or conundrums and communication minefields of the moment! 

The reality is that the travel industry is responsible for roughly 8% to 11% of global GHG emissions. Air travel is responsible for 3% of global emissions, however flying is also the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases and is expected to increase significantly over the next 30 years. The flight part of a trip is also usually the largest part of the emissions impact.

What is greenwashing?

Greenwashing refers to the practice of misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product, service, or company. It involves communicating and creating a false perception of environmental responsibility or sustainability, while the company’s actual practices may be harmful to the environment. Greenwashing is quite simply a ‘smoke & mirrors’ technique: “when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimizing their environmental impact”.

What is NOT greenwashing and how can we avoid it?

When a company/individual,

  • is transparent and honest about their strategy to reduce emissions.
  • is accurate and unambiguous about the action that it does take and does not hide or omit information.
  • takes the full lifecycle of a product into account when measuring the environmental impact.
  • backs up claims with valid information and certifications.
  • Avoids generic jargon and terms that could be misinterpreted.

Most companies do not set out intentionally to greenwash, it is usually more down to lack of knowledge and therefore best practices. Sustainability matters are extremely complex and continually evolving, which can make communicating about the topic very difficult.

However, there is no doubt that we urgently need climate action by everyone, on every level, therefore analysing and understanding the full supply chain of the products that we offer and starting to find ways to help reduce the environmental impact is paramount. Every gesture and action can help make a difference, besides maybe changing suppliers, changing offers for more actively sustainable partners, measuring, reducing, removing emissions where we can and even by just planting a tree with every product for example, is also the start of a positive climate contribution, and can be part of your sustainability journey.

Communicating about our efforts however big or small is important, by showing our commitment, we will encourage others to do the same and then simply being transparent on progress will garner great trust – trust breeds not only customer loyalty, but an almost inherent will to do even better.

Why it’s important to UNDERSTAND & therefore avoid ‘greenwashing’?

Many countries are now clamping down on greenwashing.

The EU’s new Green Transition Directive has a list of terms companies will no longer be able to use on product labels. Perhaps the most striking one is ‘carbon-neutral’, a widely used term across industries. Once the directive has been approved, EU member states will have 24 months to implement changes and incorporate the new rules into their law.

The UK’s Competition Markets Authority (CMA) and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) work side by side leading investigations into claims and forcing companies to remove ads that do not comply with their code of conduct. Green claims on product labelling are not yet regulated in the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced earlier this year that it is reviewing its Green Guides and will consider whether to pursue rulemaking to establish environmental marketing regulations, which would also be enforced by law.

If you’re found to be greenwashing the effects can be damaging, including a loss of consumer trust, damage to a brands reputation and credibility, with potential fines and even potential legal action.

BUT, don’t let the fear of greenwashing hold back your sustainability work!

Achieving sustainability goals is an ongoing and evolving process. Companies may need to adapt and refine their approaches as they gain more insights from their efforts. Most importantly, we need to encourage a culture of climate action, sincerity, transparency and learning as we go along. If mistakes are made, then acknowledging failures and using them as steppingstones to success, fosters continuous improvement and is a positive and necessary approach. It can lead to more effective solutions, increased accountability, and ultimately, progress in addressing environmental challenges. So, let’s not make perfection be the enemy of action and most importantly not forget, that actions always speak louder than words.

Why start your sustainability journey?

This last summer (2023) was the warmest on record, we’re heating at a rate unprecedented in at least 2000 years and the link between human-caused heating, through the burning of fossil fuels and increasingly severe weather is now ‘an established fact’. (IPCC) During July and August 2023, we witnessed some of the most damaging extreme weather events around the world particularly in Canada, Hawaii, Florida, Greece and China, many of these places were also in popular holiday resorts. They experienced devastating wildfires to flooding, where thousands of lives have been lost, environments and biodiversity have been decimated and millions of livelihoods have been disrupted through displacement, lost homes and lost incomes.

We now have a window of opportunity to help reverse climate change and we all have a role to play. So, while the scientists and engineers of the world work on better solutions for transport and energy, we must all start the process towards positive change – remembering that making an impact is not achieved merely by the big efforts of the few, but rather by the sum of all the endeavours of many.

83% of global travelers think sustainable travel is now vital, with 69% committed to reducing their carbon footprint of their trip or would pay to compensate this whenever possible.

64% of Gen X consumers will spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand and that figure jumps to 75% among millennials.

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