What is “Greenwashing” and how can it Affect the Meetings Industry?

The term “greenwashing” isn’t something new. In fact, it can be traced back to the 1980s, but it has become even more relevant in today’s climate of increased environmental awareness. It refers to the somewhat deceptive corporate practice of putting a “green” spin on a company’s activities, rather than telling the whole truth.

The phrase was first coined in 1986 by Jay Westerveld, an American researcher and environmentalist, whose work focused on studying endangered species’ habitats. He came up with the phrase “greenwashing”, also known as the “green sheen”, while researching practices in the hospitality industry.

It was a play on the term “whitewashing”, when companies and individuals attempted to gloss over wrongdoing by using clever word-play. Westerveld came across instances where businesses had spent plenty of money on promoting themselves as environmentally friendly, yet they were spending considerably less on putting any genuine green activities into practice.

Examples of greenwashing range from rebranding to evoke a natural image for a product that contains harmful chemicals, to multi-million-pound advertising campaigns that put a positive spin on companies who are actually causing environmental damage.

As consumers increasingly seek out green products and services in the 21st century, companies who haven’t kept pace with the times in terms of protecting our planet, are turning to greenwashing to meet customer demands.

The polar bear has been cited by some campaigners as a common symbol of greenwashing, as they claim every time a company wishes to portray itself as caring about the environment, it uses a stark image of a sick-looking polar bear on a melting ice-cap.

polar bear

© Silver / Adobe Stock

You may be wondering how this affects the meetings and events industry? Well, it has become an important consideration for events planners when organising a meeting or conference. There are many ways you can ensure your company is genuinely promoting sustainability.

First, when you’re organising the catering, always research your supply chain. If your supplier claims to be sustainable, don’t be afraid to ask exactly what this entails. Ask them to detail their sustainability policy. If they pledge to promote recycling and sustainability, yet ignore their own products’ contents, this could be seen as hypocritical.

Make sure you have a clear understanding of the terms used to describe green practices – for example, just because something claims to be “natural”, this doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Arsenic and uranium are “natural”, but they are also poisonous!

Ensure you have a sound understanding of the criteria used when something is certified “eco-friendly”. When researching, look for suppliers who use clear criteria and publish regular updates on how they are performing.

Ask for a tour of kitchen areas of vendors who say they are green. If they have nothing to hide, they shouldn’t be offended, after all, you’re the customer who is spending a considerable amount of money on their catering services. Look out for where their waste goes and how it’s sorted out and check whether recycling is in place.

When it comes to your own practices, don’t inadvertently greenwash your own organisation! When you’re planning on hosting a conference about saving the planet, be honest about what your company does.

When you’re upfront and clear about your commitment, actions and intentions, even if you’re only just starting out, it will be clear you’re making every effort towards being sustainable. Telling the truth is always the best policy and will be accepted and lauded. Don’t be the one with the polar bear on your business cards!

When you’re searching for the best venue for your meeting or event, &Meetings is on hand to help with our affordable meeting rooms in London. Give us a call on 0800 073 0499.


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