Communication: 5 rules to follow to avoid greenwashing

Communication: 5 rules to follow to avoid greenwashing

Do you want to communicate on your carbon footprint actions? Here is a short guide to help you.

Astrid Serre

Astrid Serre

Climate consultant

Update :

At a time when the climate is becoming a voting factor for 80% of French people, companies taking action on their carbon footprint are inevitably tempted to communicate about it.

Whether it is to highlight the brand or products/services to customers or to attract new candidates, announcements about the climate are multiplying... with varying degrees of success.

For some years now, certain communications around carbon have not been accepted. Several companies have experienced this. These communications intended to promote efforts are turning against their authors, accused by the general public of"greenwashing". This greenwashing is now prohibited by law (Climate and Resilience Act).

To avoid such scenarios, here is a list of rules to apply every time you communicate on carbon, to avoid attracting the wrath of public opinion. 

1. Ban the term "carbon neutral

As we said in our article on carbon neutrality, this very fashionable term should be used with great care in your communications.

This formulation of "carbon neutrality", which is unfortunately still used incorrectly by many companies, is a concept that can only be measured on a global scale, or even by country. It is fundamentally meaningless on a company level.

It has been used a lot by companies because of a common misconception:

"If I offset all my emissions, then I am carbon neutral".

In fact, companies can come and "contribute" to carbon neutrality, by reducing their emissions, as well as offsetting the induced emissions with avoided or negative emissions.

Thus, it is preferable to communicate about the carbon footprint, the reduction of emissions and the compensation projects in which the company has invested.


2. Always justify your figures

The Bilan Carbone is a rigorous methodology

Are you making a positive announcement about carbon? 

Don't forget to prove your facts.

Some companies disclose information on their environmental performance that is sometimes surprising, without justifying it. These announcements are most often about the carbon footprint of a product or service sold by the company.

As the carbon calculation data is public, it is quite easy for an insider to establish orders of magnitude and challenge your figures. If these turn out to be unrealistic, you risk an immediate backlash.

So remember to back up your communications with figures as much as possible.

3. Carbon footprint: Be as transparent as possible about the methodology used

You have just done your carbon footprint. Well done! It's a great first step.

Some basic rules if you want to communicate your carbon footprint well:

  • List the emission factor bases used.
  • If you have used a service provider / SaaS solution, do not hesitate to mention it to give credibility to your analysis.
  • Always indicate the methodology used and the scope of the study (Which countries? Which scopes? Are there any elements not taken into account in your carbon footprint, such as the use of your product by customers, etc.? )
  • Publish it on the ADEME website and/or make it available on your website.

4. Communicate your emission reduction and action plan as a priority

Beware of greenwashing!

Another simple rule to keep in mind:

As carbon sinks are by nature physically limited, carbon offsetting will not be sufficient to absorb the excess CO2 emitted by human activity.

The best thing you can do as a company is to reduce your emissions. This is where your communication will be most accurate.

However, you can be sure that your ad will be scrutinised and people will ask for justification.

Here is the list of data that should always be provided if you are reporting on your carbon footprint:

  • The evolution of emissions in absolute value, even if you have already indicated the evolution of your carbon performance (in tCO2e per m€, FTE, etc.)
  • Indicate which actions have allowed this evolution and why (Is it the reduction of an emission item? Was it the substitution of an emission item by another, less emissive one? Was it a change of supplier and therefore of emission factor that led to this reduction?)
  • Finally, provide as many figures as possible, within the limits of confidentiality.

These well-reasoned communications will demonstrate your seriousness about the subject and maximise the positive impact, especially in an age when the vast majority of such announcements remain unclear.

5. Carbon offsetting

Communication on carbon offsetting is probably the most sensitive. Indeed, a number of companies have abused the offsetting mechanism in order to avoid making real efforts with regard to carbon. 

This type of action, now well known, is immediately sanctioned by the general public.

However, despite the negative image it may have, investing in offsets remains an effective way to develop carbon sinks.

Be careful, however, to select your projects very carefully and to be accompanied by a recognised player, because absolutely everything can be found in compensation, including scams.

So, if you communicate about your compensation actions, always remember to:

  • Specifically mention the projects in which you have invested
  • Give details of the project: In which country? What type of project? Order of magnitude of the price per tonne? Why did you choose it?
  • Quote the service provider you used and mention the labels / certifications related to the projects
  • Finally, avoid communicating only about offsetting. Couple it with a communication on the reduction of your emissions or your carbon footprint

Do you have any other recommendations on carbon communication?

Please let us know!

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