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Do you trust companies’ carbon-cutting claims?

Globe in woman's hands

Some companies go to great lengths to assure us of their carbon-busting credentials – so why do only 7% of us believe their green claims? How many companies are really making a difference to the environment?

A new study suggests, perhaps not surprisingly, that businesses and cuddly environmental messages don’t always mix.

According to the Carbon Trust – the not-for-profit body tasked with encouraging the business world to help meet carbon emission reduction targets – their environmental reputation has been tarnished by ‘greenwashing, over-claiming and excessive jargon’.

Only 7% of us believe the claims that companies make about taking action on climate change. Two-thirds of the public question whether businesses genuinely reduce their carbon emissions – and more than half see one-off improvements as mere publicity stunts, before companies simply get back to ‘business as usual’.

We’re cynics when it comes to green pledges

Is it that companies are simply more interested in being seen to be embracing environmental ideals than actually living by them?

I think I definitely sit on the cynical side of the fence. Pledges, stunts or getting involved in themed ‘awareness’ publicity events (only last week we had ‘Climate Week’, sponsored by Tesco) are all very well if they help to champion a good cause and establish some firm, long-term commitments from businesses.

But ‘supporting’ a campaign has to mean more than simply adding your name to a list and then basking in green-hued glory. I’d rather get straight down to the cold, hard evidence of how a company is planning to cut carbon emissions in real terms.

Give us stats, not stunts

The Carbon Trust survey suggests 56% of us are more loyal to brands that can show simple evidence of the practical steps they’re taking – ideally via an independently accredited source – and that this could equate to a 2% increase in sales.

Some examples: John Lewis, it says, has achieved a 20% cut in carbon emissions against 2003/4 figures. Marks & Spencer’s ‘Plan A’, meanwhile, is a list of 180 commitments to achieve by 2015, audited by Ernst & Young.

What the Carbon Trust doesn’t appear to do here is take into account the different levels of trust people have according to business sectors or brands. Instead, it’s lumped what someone thinks about a big multi-national together with attitudes towards small, locally-run businesses.

Of course, it will have its own motive for conducting such a survey: to urge businesses to sign up to its Carbon Trust Standard, a certification mark where firms are assessed on their specific carbon-cutting achievements.

I’m interested to hear your examples of the companies you do – and don’t – trust when it comes to carbon commitments. Are we too quick to dismiss the environmental claims of business as ‘greenwash’, or are we right to be sceptical?


I agree that M&S do seem good at this. They publicise their pledges around the store, all backed up by stats, so I tend to believe that they’re pretty good as walking their talk. But, beyond that no more immediately spring to mind, which suggests that companies have a lot further to go – not only in putting the work in, but in telling their customers about it too.

I think many of us believe that the “carbon cutting” claims are inflated by creative accounting and clever use of statistics. Their actions are high on introducing policies and claiming achievements which will have very little real impact and very low on hard figures and % reductions.

Same with “Green Energy” tariffs, how many of the companies actually buy in extra renewable energy or fund extra renewable generation with money from the higher tariffs ? Or do they just shuffle round the renewable energy they are forced to buy between the Green and normal tariffs users ?

It’s fashionable to show Green credentials. I like the term “add your name to a list and then bask in green-hued glory”. That’s just what they do, it sells.
I prefer to see real practical examples like replacing glass jars with refill packs, better still if the resulting saving is passed on.
I’m not really interested in some statistic about John Lewis claiming a 20% cut in carbon emissions. So they turned off a few lights and got their staff to work in a colder office. Their real motive was to save money, claiming “Green brownie points” is just another attempt to improve environmental credentials, make themselves more popular with “green evangelists” and sell them more stuff.