What Is Greenwashing — and How Do You Avoid It?


As consumers become exceedingly eco-conscious, more companies are communicating their carbon footprint — but they should avoid greenwashing


Harmful behavior doesn’t always come from harmful intentions, and this is often the case with greenwashing.

To know how to avoid greenwashing in your business, you must first understand what the term means. The definition of greenwashing is relatively loose. Essentially, it’s a term used when a company markets its product as more environmentally sound than it actually is. (For the purposes of this article, when we say environmentally sound, we only mean in terms of its carbon emissions.)

However, a company can’t know whether it is greenwashing unless it accurately measures its carbon emissions. Measuring carbon emissions is the key to not only avoiding greenwashing, but also practicing good behavior.

Measuring Carbon Emissions to Determine Your Product’s Eco Footprint

Again, greenwashing is not usually a result of bad intentions — it most often stems from a lack of understanding of how exactly carbon emissions are measured, what is being measured, and whether it even can be measured. So, how are carbon emissions measured in the first place? There are two common ways, both equally valid.

The first is to measure life-cycle emissions. These are all the carbon emissions resulting from the life cycle of a product: from raw material collection to manufacturing, distribution, use, and disposal. The difficulty in measuring life-cycle emissions is that you need to know a lot about all the industries contributing to the product’s journey. For example, if you wanted to measure the life-cycle emissions of a car, you would need to know how it was built, what resources it needs to run, how it is disposed of at the end of its useful life, and so on.

Another way to measure carbon emissions is in real time. If you want to decrease your emissions in 2022 and reduce your environmental impact, you need to know what your emissions are in 2022 and what they were in previous years.

Measuring life-cycle emissions and real-time emissions go hand in hand. For example, if you wanted to substitute electricity for gas, you would need to know the life-cycle emissions of each energy source and your potential emissions from those sources as you use them in 2022.

To get a fuller picture of your company’s and products’ greenhouse gas emissions, you also can look at them in terms of the three scopes:


  • Scope one: Emissions that come directly from sources you own or control, such as natural gas you burn to heat your building.
  • Scope two: Emissions that come indirectly from the electricity or heat you purchase.
  • Scope three: Any other emissions associated with your business (such as employee commuting and business travel, investments, etc.). This scope is typically the most significant contributor to emissions, but also the hardest to measure.

Measuring your carbon emissions is the first step toward responsible carbon stewardship. However, there is more work to be done. Some additional actions you can take to reduce your company’s carbon impact and avoid greenwashing are as follows:

  • Learn as much as possible about each step of your operations and about your entire supply chain, including what your partners are doing as well as the laws and regulations that might affect your business.
  • Create internal policies and goals for decarbonization. Then, revisit and revise those goals annually.
  • Understand the cost and time frame of your decarbonization strategy. How long will it take to reach your goal? Set a preliminary timeline, such as five or 10 years, and then break it down into smaller portions to come up with a detailed plan.
  • Execute on your plan. Then, measure the progress, review the plan, and revise as necessary. A lot will be learned in this process if done diligently. After all, you know your operations better than anyone else.
  • Be transparent in all things. Collect detailed data and report your progress to stakeholders such as customers, investors, and partners.
  • Ask a third party to verify your progress. This will help with transparency and add credibility to your decarbonization goals.

We know this is hard. Measuring your carbon emissions, coming up with a plan to lower them, implementing the plan, and reporting on progress is not easy. We certainly don’t expect everyone to know how to do it. The good news is that the experts at EcoEngineers do — it’s our specialty. We take a 360-degree approach that includes six areas: education and training; regulatory engagement; carbon life-cycle analysis; asset development coaching; compliance management; and auditing.

Essentially, we are your one-stop shop for decarbonization. We know you want to make your operations more sustainable, and we’re here to help make that process easier. Contact us today to learn more from our experts and avoid greenwashing!