GREENWASHING - The Wrong Sustainability Strategy

April 2022

With growing awareness of the wider impact of our consumption and investment decisions, there is a strong incentive for companies to attract customers by marketing their positive contribution to environmental or social issues. However, the complexity of these topics means that the risk of misinforming consumers can be high, and whether intentional or mis-intentional, ‘greenwashing’ is​​​ prevalent.

Greenwashing is an attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it is. ”

It's not easy being green...
A ‘sustainable’ product is a product that causes little or no damage to the environment. There are very few products that can credibly make this claim, but there is a lot that can be done to move towards a more sustainable future and the credible brands are those that are transparent about those challenges and set the right goals to achieve sustainability

Greenwashing is a communication or marketing technique pursued by companies that propose their activities as environmentally sustainable, enhancing the positive effects of some initiatives and at the same time trying to hide the negative environmental impact of others or of the company as a whole.

Greenwashing refers to communications around the environmental performance of a product or company, however ‘sustainability’ encompasses a much greater spectrum of both the impact on the environment and the social impact on society as a whole.

The complexity starts with how you assess the sustainability of a product: for example, does one focus on the product itself or the way that the product is produced? Seemingly ‘sustainable’ products can have unsustainable elements to their production or supply chain. And ‘unsustainable’ products, can outperform their industry making them ‘sustainable’ solutions in an unsustainable space!

The value of the right label

Many products carry labels claiming they are ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco friendly’. In reality, there is often little transparency as to what these labels actually mean. 

Many labels are created by the seller and only tell a part of the story, claiming to be ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’ without clearly communicating the details of these claims. They also say nothing for the wider practises and materials used in the value chain.

Alternatively, labels provided by third party certifiers are awarded if the product meets the criteria set by that certifier. Such independent third-party certification provides credibility and trust, but consumers need to be able to distinguish between the two and understand what they stand for.

The most common forms of greenwashing are:

1. Focusing on one ‘green’ characteristic of a product, whilst ignoring negative environmental impact elsewhere in the value chain.
2. Making misleading claims, which do not paint a complete picture; for example, claiming that a product is made out of recycled materials when the actual percentage of recycled materials makes up only a small percentage of the inputs.

3 important steps for companies to avoid Greenwashing:

1. Understand the footprint across the sustainably spectrum. If companies do not understand their footprint, they cannot credibly celebrate where they are performing well. 

2. Be honest about where they are performing well and where they face challenges. Admitting to the complexity gives credibility to your claims.

3. Set long term goals to address these challenges and be transparent about where they are in terms of meeting those goals.

Why is greenwashing so damaging?

Greenwashing fosters scepticism and discourages consumers to make the right decisions. Faced with misinformation it is hard for consumers to assess the impact of their choices and this is hugely damaging for the sustainability movement.

Greenwashing in the Financial Sector

In the financial sector, there is a vast range of investment opportunities across the ‘ESG’ ‘Impact’ or ‘sustainability' spectrum. Historically a lack of standards and implementable frameworks has led to a lack of understanding of where investments sit on this spectrum and potentially a false understanding as to whether there is an incremental benefit to the environment or to society from making an investment. In the EU, the EU taxonomy, which defines what constitutes an “environmentally sustainable economic activity" and the SFDR regulation, which sets out rules for what is required to be classified as an 'ESG' or an 'impact fund', seek to provide more clarification and transparency for investors.

How can companies avoid greenwashing?

Greenwashing can be said to be a communications topic, but in reality it goes much deeper. It is an important signal about an organisation’s commitment to the future and how seriously they consider the impact that they have on society as a whole. 

Sustainable actions can be driven by passion and values, by business opportunity, or by rules and regulation: but whatever the driver, implementing credible sustainably strategies and aligning communication to a company’s sustainability performance is key to avoid greenwashing. 

We BELIEVE. that sustainability must be fully embedded into an organisation’s long term business strategy and goals, and that in the future, the only viable business model will be a sustainable one.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is provided for information and marketing purposes only and has no contractual value. BELIEVE. does not warrant or make any representation as to the accuracy or completeness of any information expressed .  Copyright BELIEVE. Partners AG 2022


Edith Alderweld

Edith's mission is to make people aware on the positive impact they can achieve for themselves, our society and environment by investing wealth in a responsible and sustainable way. To bring purpose into the financial industry and to accompany women in sustainable finance to find their purpose and thrive personally and in their career.

 Her project, Moving Money to Meaning, is her passion. It reflects her personal values, mission and purpose with her working experience. She co-created the course 'Sustainable Investing in Wealth Management' with the University of Zurich. She advices on Sustainable Investments Trends in combination with the SDG Goals at Acatis Fair Value AG.

 In Zurich she initiated the network ‘Women in Sustainable Finance’ (WISF) to raise awareness, to support gender equality in finance, to educate and to create synergy by cooperation. Edith is the co-founder of the charity Association War Child Support Switzerland, that supports War Child in the Netherlands with fund raising. She is a public speaker and consummate networker.

Alistdair Wilson Gough

Alistdair Wilson Gough is the Managing Partner of KMA Planning LLP and a Founding Partner of 50 International and 50 Great Britain. 

His professional career spans decades in the provision of tax and structuring advice for clients both in the UK and abroad. With excellent relationships with a number of senior barristers, 

Alistdair has a breadth of experience in searching for compliant answers to the challenges in structuring to manage the tax on both established and developing wealth for both the UK resident and the non-domiciled arriving in the UK. 

Olivier Marchand

At MSI Inc:
Managing Director -Global Head of ESG Research & Models
Global Head of ESG Research & Development
Executive Director - Head of Climate Risk Research & Development

Experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the asset management industry. Skilled in Portfolio Management, IT Infrastructure Management, Asset Management, IT Service Management, and IT Strategy. Strong entrepreneurship professional with Ph.D. in Computer Science from ETH Zürich

Nicole Rycroft

Nicole Rycroft is the Founder and Executive Director of award winning environmental not-for-profit, Canopy.
  Nicole has spent the past 22 years inspiring and supporting senior corporate decision makers in the publishing, print and fashion sectors to advance ambitious sustainability initiatives, transform unsustainable supply chains and advance conservation of the world's Ancient and Endangered Forests.
Nicole and her team catalyze commercial production of innovative circular economy solutions and support more than 750 companies green their purchasing practices, including H&M, Zara/Inditex, Penguin Random House and Stella McCartney.
Nicole was recently named recipient of the 2020 Climate Breakthrough Award and is an Ashoka Fellow, UBS Global Visionary, recipient of the Meritorious Service Cross of Canada and Canadian Environment Award Gold Medal.

Claudia Robayo-

Claudia is a lawyer and the Vice-President at Swiss Re which helps insurers and direct clients to shoulder risks through re/insurance and other solutions.

She has been a legal counselor for 21 years

Chirag Shah

Business executive/Entrepreneur. A dynamic and visionary business leader with a rare combination of executive board level experience and proven entrepreneurial track record.

Formerly Executive Director at Xchanging plc, a FTSE-listed business processing and technology solutions provider.
Founder of 4 entrepreneurial ventures all achieving successful exits including MarketMaker4 - sold to Xchanging plc, TradingPartners - twice listed on The Sunday Times TechTrack100 and listed in the Best Companies to Work For Awards 2006 and most recently Simfoni - a digital solutions provider for Spend Analytics and Spend Automation with special emphasis on corporate social responsibility.

Strong track record in international business with experience managing businesses in over 30 countries with special attention to USA, Europe, China, UAE.

Upgrate to $9/mounth
Focus on Net-zero

Our planet has already warmed by 1.2 degrees and the last 5 years were the warmest on record. Extreme climate events are becoming common place and we are seeing the impact across the world. This will only intensify without decisive action.  According to science we are on track for a warming of around 2.4%.  
The science tell us that this will lead to a massive increase in severe weather events - more frequent and more intense, and immense social impact. Stabilising the worlds climate requires strong, rapid and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and this can only be achieved with decisive action. Governments and companies around the world need to delver on the promised being made. We need a decrease in emissions of 7% each year until 2030.  

This year’s COP put the private sector at the centre of the agenda, acknowledging the essential role that business has to play.  Business is a critical part of the climate solution. At BELIEVE. We drive change by supporting businesses' transition to a more sustainable future. We are focused on aligning sustainability with long term business goals, engaging employees to unleash workforce potential and supporting companies to position themselves for the future. 

 Global Finance Alliance for Net Zero:

This year’s COP places private sector at the centre of the agenda, acknowledging the essential role that business has to play. We see the finance sector as a critical enabler to decarbonisation of the global economy.

Mark Carney confirmed that via the GFANZ (Global Finance Alliance for net zero), $130 trillion of capital is committed to aligning portfolios and the balance sheet of financial institutions to net zero – promising commitment, engagement, investment and net-zero alignment under the GFANZ. GFANZ’s goal is to accelerate the investment needed to reach the 1.5 degrees target and to transform a net zero economy. 

But these commitments need action. 

The GFANZ signatories span across the financial services sector and commit to: 
• Use science-based guidelines to reach net-zero emissions across all emissions scopes by 2050.
• Set 2030 interim targets that represent a fair share of the 50% decarbonisation required by the end of the decade.
• Set and publish a net-zero transition strategy. 
• Commit to transparent reporting and accounting on progress against those targets. 
• Adhere to strict restrictions on use of offsets. 

This means firstly, that financial institutions need to implement the right measurement and monitoring processes across their portfolios to enable them to assess performance against these commitments. They need to be able to consistently and accurately monitor the carbon intensity of investment portfolios and balance sheet, and set realistic and actionable targets. But more importantly, it means that those seeking capital, need also to commit to and ultimately reach net-zero!

We work with companies both in and out of the financial sector to understand what this means for their business and to build a strategy aligned to these commitments. To build credible and achievable targets and to identify the solutions needs to achieve them.

Introducing BELIEVE.

We BELIEVE. in a world where nature and society co-exist in harmony and thrive together. Our mission is to drive change by supporting businesses transition to a more sustainable future.We support organisations to align their sustainability strategy with their long term business goals.  To embed sustainability across their organisation and engage employees to unleash their workforce potential.

Why? Because we BELIEVE. in the future. Companies with the right sustainability strategy are better placed to face the future; to identify opportunity, access finance, attract the best talents and deliver on their purpose. And we BELIEVE. that businesses have a crucial role in investing in this future to make it brighter for generations to come.