1 in 5 businesses admit to greenwashing, Clearly poll finds

30 September 2022 | 4 min read | Clearly News
Portrait photo of Paul MacKenzie-Cummins
Paul MacKenzie-Cummins

One in five (18 per cent) UK businesses admit to making false claims and exaggerating their green credentials – so-called ‘greenwashing’ – while almost half (44 per cent) say they are failing to deliver on their sustainable commitments, according to a poll conducted by Clearly PR between 22nd-23rd September.

A quarter (24 per cent) of executives admit that they simply don’t know if their sustainability efforts are making any positive difference at all.

Of major concern too is that one-fifth (20 per cent) say they are completely unaware if their business has any metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of their environmental initiatives in the first place.

1 in 5 UK businesses admit to greenwashing so as to better appeal to customers, investors, and stakeholders

Just 19 per cent of respondents to the poll of more than 1,500 senior executives by the Bath-based specialist corporate and ESG agency believe that their business is making any genuine progress on its sustainable initiatives.

The poll aimed to provide real-time insight into how UK businesses are responding to growing investor and consumer demand for organisations to operate along more sustainable and socially responsible lines.

We need acts, not ads. These findings are extremely disappointing and equally revealing. ESG (environmental, social and governance) has been catapulted to the top of the business agenda in recent years.

Yet despite the rhetoric and their public commitment to sustainability, a considerable number of businesses are simply not making good on their public promises.

More worrying is the unacceptably high number of businesses admitting they have resorted to using greenwashing in their ESG communications in a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers, investors, and other stakeholders to make themselves look good.

“We need acts, not ads… too businesses are simply not making good on their public promises.”

Once exposed, however, such false claims are not only damaging to the brand and reputation of these businesses, but their stock value will also depreciate, and bottom-line sales are likely to be negatively impacted too.

The findings of the poll could suggest that the rise in greenwashing may partly be the result of a lack of understanding among businesses of how to measure the impact of their sustainability initiatives in the first place.

Most leaders understand they have a responsibility to operate their businesses more sustainably and that when done right this can drive business value.

However, where it fails is when there is a lack of knowledge on how to embed sustainability into their business processes, workforces, and supply chains and where there is an absence of any clearly defined sustainability goals.

This, I believe, is in part responsible for some of the greenwashing activity we are seeing right now. Businesses know they need to be seen to be doing more to reduce their carbon footprint and feel under pressure to say ‘something’ positive to appease their customers. It is desperate, yet a position that can easily be avoided.

“Most leaders understand they have a responsibility to operate their businesses more sustainably and that when done right this can drive business value.”

There is a flip side to this, of course. Many businesses are doing a great job with their environmental policies. But the rise in those guilty of making false claims regarding their sustainability credentials is seeing many more keeping quiet about their achievements through fear of being labelled as greenwashers.

That is both frustrating and equally possible to overcome. Indeed, we recorded a series of five-minute videos sharing insights into how businesses and brands can let the world know all the great stuff they are doing and to do so in a way that attracts plaudits not critics. Watch Video 2 in the series for some useful tips on this.

A total of 1,541 respondents took part in the poll, which was conducted between 22nd-23rd September 2022. The poll was conducted on Twitter, whereby the target audience included specific keywords including: ‘chief executive’, ‘chief operating officer’, chief marketing officer’, ‘marketing director’, ‘head of marketing’, ‘marketing manager’, managing director’, ‘founder’, ‘chairman’, ‘chairwoman’, ‘chairperson’, and ‘director’.