Earth Changers’ first blog covering ‘Greenwashing in Sustainable Tourism & Responsible Travel’ looked at its definition, the problems caused, how to spot and avoid it and how certification and accreditation can help.
The reality is that many of the ‘7 Sins of Greenwashing’ would just not exist if data evidence was available. But historically in tourism, even if possible, it hasn’t been in practice. Why?
1. Prioritisation and Resources: You didn’t have to (yet), so why would you now?
Many organisations say they don’t have the time and resources available to measure, collect, monitor and publish sustainability data. But with the rise in both supplier and consumer interest in sustainability, its integrity, more anti-greenwash guidelines and regulations, more and more organisations are impact measuring. Do you want to be left behind?
2. Awareness and Knowledge: You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
Covid’s enormous impacts on tourism include the need for greater resilience, plus greater connection with communities and nature. What is, and how do you develop, resilience whilst supporting both community and nature? The answer: Sustainability (economic, social and environmental).
It is a unique journey. You have to know where you are, where you want to go – and work out the way forward in between.
Certification and accreditation can help create a baseline, learn and develop next steps to take and give the audience an indication of the journey. On the downside, certifications often only consider policies and processes, but not their outcomes. They can help organisations say and do the right things to steer to sustainability, but if not thoroughly implemented throughout the supply chain, they may not necessarily elicit impact and thus could appear to be greenwashing.
3. Sustainability Data Capture: How do you evidence sustainability?
With the rise in interest and action, we’re seeing more organisations take a step on from certification to measuring, capturing and sharing sustainability data and impacts. In most cases, this starts with capturing data in excel spreadsheets, but other methods may be more consumable and visually appealing.
At Earth Changers, we provide rich content and stories to provide a narrative to the data.
Weeva provides an easy-to-use digital platform for capturing, collating, comparing and analysing that data for sustainability management decisions with dashboard reporting for real-time tracking impacts.
4. Greenwash Guidelines: What can be done to prevent greenwash and ensure integrity?
Until now, sustainability has been largely driven by voluntary actions by suppliers from the bottom-up. But so has greenwashing, therefore, possibly inadvertently misunderstanding how to promote genuine sustainability in line with consumer protection rules, possibly intentionally wanting to appear to ‘go green’ for commercial benefit.
A study commissioned by the European Commission in 2020 found that over half (53%) of green claims made by companies were vague, misleading, or unfounded. Additionally, 40% of these claims were unsubstantiated, lacking evidence to support their environmental impact claims.
This can undermine genuine efforts to sustainable development, leading to eroded confidence and trust in even genuine sustainable products and markets.
5. Greenwash Regulations: Are there top-down legal requirements?
As we see more sustainability claims published, so we’ll see more greenwash and greater scrutiny in:
- Sustainability marketing: to protect consumers against false claims.
- Sustainability classifying, reporting and disclosing: in Environmental and Social Governance.
Regulations are, for now, largely Europe-based where claims must be backed by evidence data, offering full transparency, may require auditing and assurance and demand real (concrete, measurable) reduction targets, not offsets.
- The UK Green Claims Code
- The EU Green Claims Directive
- The Consumer Code and The Climate and Resilience Law (France)
- The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)’s Climate Risk and Emissions Disclosure Rules (expected in 2024)
However, reach for these schemes isn’t confined to these geographical boundaries – organisations that conduct business globally in these regions must also align with the laws. (So if you have European tour operators booking lodges in Africa, they are going to be asking for this data…)
Financial fines aim to deter businesses and individuals from non-compliance, but reputational damage in a sector where consumers increasingly seek responsible and sustainable products and services can be as, if not more, damaging.
A Conclusion to Greenwashing?
Businesses are going to require increasing resources to document robust evidence to make ‘green’ claims. Transparency is crucial and all claims must be specific and substantiated. Earth Changers advise you to:
- Have a rigorous system to measure, monitor and publish sustainability data evidence.
- A platform like Weeva can help understand, capture and collect data, store and monitor, publish, compare and report.
- Review and audit marketing materials and sustainability claims.
- For setting targets, consider using frameworks, such as certifications or the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi).
Whilst more work for legal compliance may be required, it’s an opportunity for the continued and necessary shift to a more responsible and transparent travel sector for everyone’s sustainability.
Read Earth Changers‘ full article.
Why I became a Weeva Ambassador
- Vicky Smith
"Having worked at every customer touchpoint across most types of tourism, and having personally witnessed most of its consequences - positive and negative - I highly appreciate the importance of impact.
The only way to truly know, and be able to improve, is to continuously measure and monitor evidence-based data. For me, Weeva is the next brilliant level to cut greenwashing and to create and communicate positive impacts and beyond. Weeva can do that comparatively across the tourism sector and provides incredible opportunities for sector insights to help improve the whole industry's impact and sustainability, a shared vision we jointly work toward."