Sustainability in Construction: Understanding ‘Greenwashing’

Sustainability in Construction 101 – Article 7:

Understanding ‘Greenwashing’ and How to Avoid it

In our latest article about sustainability in the UK construction industry,  we delve deeper into a term you may have heard before but might not fully understand: ‘greenwashing’. We’ll explore the concept of greenwashing, discuss the recent EU legislative proposal, and provide you with actionable tips to ensure your sustainability efforts are genuine, transparent, and effective.

understanding greenwashing

As you embark on your sustainability journey, it is crucial to be aware of greenwashing and learn how to avoid it. Not only could greenwashing mislead clients, but it also potentially undermines genuine sustainability efforts.

Greenwashing refers to the practice of presenting a company or its products as more environmentally friendly or sustainable than they actually are.

It involves making false or misleading claims about sustainability to attract customers or gain a competitive edge. The construction industry, like many others, has seen instances of greenwashing, where companies exploit the growing demand for sustainability without genuinely committing to it. This practice not only erodes trust but also hampers the industry’s progress toward a greener future.

Indeed, according to the European Commission:

  • 53% of green claims give vague, misleading, or unfounded information
  • 40% of claims have no supporting evidence

Signs of greenwashing

To avoid falling into the greenwashing trap, it’s essential to recognise the common signs that indicate a company may not be as sustainable as it claims. Here are a few red flags to watch out for:

a) Vague or ambiguous language: Beware of using buzzwords like “eco-friendly,” “green,” or “sustainable” without specific details or certifications that back them up.

b) Lack of transparency: Genuine sustainability efforts are usually supported by data, certifications, and third-party verification. If you have a cabron emissions report, a sustainability policy, a carbon reduction plan, or carbon neutral certifications then make sure they are easily visible and accessible for people.

c) Overemphasis on a single aspect: Greenwashing often involves exaggerating one positive attribute while ignoring other crucial environmental or social factors. A holistic approach to sustainability is key.

d) Misleading imagery:  Greenwashing often employs nature-related imagery to evoke a sense of environmental responsibility without supporting evidence. If you use this kind of imagery, then make sure you include supporting material and evidence.

EU Legislation

Companies are coming under increased scrutiny in relation to ‘greenwashing’ and  ‘green claims’, underscoring the need for companies to be vigilant about their sustainability communications and avoid making unsubstantiated claims.

In addition, earlier this year the European Commission adopted a proposal for a Directive on Green Claims. They advocate introducing new measures that will ensure consumers receive reliable, comparable, and verifiable environmental information on products. The proposal targets ‘ explicit claims’ and includes:

  • clear criteria on how companies should prove their environmental claims and labels
  • requirements for these claims and labels to be checked by an independent and accredited verifier and
  • new rules on governance of environmental labelling schemes to ensure they are solid, transparent and reliable

Under the draft proposal, companies will have 10 days to justify green claims about their products or face “effective, proportionate and dissuasive” penalties.

Preparing in advance for the adoption of the proposed Directive on Green Claims is a prudent step to ensure that any green claims you make can be substantiated and supported by evidence.

Tips to avoid greenwashing

To maintain authenticity and credibility in your sustainability efforts, consider implementing the following strategies:

a) Set clear sustainability goals: Define specific targets and strategies that align with genuine environmental and social improvements. This will guide your actions and provide a transparent framework for your clients.

b) Invest in education and training: Stay updated on best practices and emerging sustainability standards in the construction industry. Educate your team on sustainability principles to foster a culture of genuine commitment.

c) Use credible certifications: Obtain recognised certifications such as BREEAM, LEED, or ISO 14001 to validate your sustainability claims. These certifications demonstrate your adherence to rigorous standards and provide credibility to your efforts.

d) Provide transparent information: Be open and honest about your sustainability practices. Share relevant data, metrics, and case studies to support your claims. Transparency builds trust and credibility with clients and stakeholders.

e) Collaborate with like-minded partners: Seek out subcontractors, suppliers, and specialists who share your commitment to sustainability. Collaborative efforts amplify the positive impact of your activities.


Greenwashing can hinder progress toward a more sustainable construction industry. By understanding what it is and how to avoid it, you can ensure that your sustainability journey remains authentic and transparent.

By setting clear goals, educating your team, using credible certifications, providing transparent information, and collaborating with like-minded partners, you’ll be well-equipped to communicate your sustainability credentials honestly and make a meaningful contribution to the sustainable future of UK construction. Remember, genuine sustainability starts with sincerity and action!

Further Reading:

Sustainability 101:

1. What is sustainability and why does it matter to your business?

2. Unpacking sustainability jargon – what do some of these terms actually mean?

3. Taking your first steps on the sustainability journey – where to start?

4. How to approach your sustainability strategy

5. How to introduce sustainability into construction workplaces: small changes, big impact.

6. Leading the way: The role of leadership in achieving sustainability in construction.

7. Understanding Greenwashing and how to avoid it.

8. Looking to the Future

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