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?