How to figure out if a company is walking the walk, or if they're just leading an effective greenwashing campaign.
As consumers, more of us care, and companies know it. Claiming to be environmentally friendly, socially responsible, or ethically made is the new tactic used to lure in customers. While we want to actually make the world a better place, how do we know if a company does?
Here are 4 determining factors that I've found to be useful to use as benchmarks to know whether or not a company is true to their word, or just using it to sell something.
Clear, honest, easy-to-understand transparency. In-store, on their website, through social media - wherever. If it difficult to find out what is happening behind-the-scenes, there is probably a gap between what a company is selling and what is actually happening.
Whether it be figuring out what are their values, ethics or company practices from their website or getting direct and informative answers from sales people, if an organization is not as keen on sharing their behind-the-scenes as they are promoting their supposed responsibility, they aren't being transparent.
Regardless of what a company might say, a certification is an important indicator in determining whether a company is just talking the talk or actually walking the walk.
Keeping it simple, a company will apply for a certification (Think: Canadian Organic or USDA Certified Organic for food products, LEED Certified for buildings or Leaping Bunny Certified for cosmetic, cleaning or household products), and can become certified if they meet a standard set by the association, organizing body or government department.
As consumers, we should be looking for the official certification icons on websites, products, buildings, or all three, and then, double-checking the logo to make sure that they aren't imitations or knock-offs. There are many companies making claims to be something that they aren't and as consumers, we need to be conscious of that.
Unlike a gym membership where we only commit to 3 weeks every January, companies that have a membership with an association need to do more than just sign up! Being a member of an organization is similar to receiving a certification: there is a set of requirements for entry, a level of accountability to remain a member and a logo to put on your products to show the world that you're a member.
How memberships differ from certifications is that they are more-so related to showcasing commitment to a certain cause via action. Companies that are members of organizations such as 1% of the planet are required to support the planet by donating 1% of their profits to environmental non-profits, while members of Nature Conservancy Canada actively assist in protecting Canadian land, plants, and wildlife.
IV. Third-party Recognition
On top of the first three benchmarks, when a company receives recognition from an association, their industry or the media, whether it simply be publicly stated congratulations or an award, it is an additional indicator to the legitimacy of their claims.
With that said, I would tread these waters carefully because it is definitely important for there to support coming from outside and independent sources, but a favourable article or 'research study' doesn't make a company legitimate.
In the end, the legitimacy of the source of the recognition (organization, agency, government department) will determine the truth of the statement or award, and hence the legitimacy of the company.
Taking it one step further...
For large companies: check out who is sitting on their board. The most socially responsible organizations don't just reflect this in their products or operations, but also in their governance.
Who is their Parent company? This might require some digging, but can give legitimacy to claims and clear up the confusion. The best example of this is The Body Shop, who despite claiming to not test on animals (Cruelty-free) or source any ingredients from animals (Vegan), didn't have any certifications to prove it. Why? Their parent company was L'Oreal. L'Oreal tests on animals, and source ingredients from animals, hence, no Leaping Bunny for The Body Shop. (The Body Shop has since been sold, so this might change.)
That's everything for now - thanks for reading this! If any of you are nerds like me, following through with any, or all, of these approaches, will make shopping for anything feel like an adventure, and make purchases so much more fulfilling.