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Going Green: What more can be done to stop greenwashing undermining your sustainability goals?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has warned of ‘questionable’ net zero carbon claims within the built environment, while in a recent survey ‘Greenwashing – what’s true, what’s not, and does it matter?’ almost 90 per cent of respondents believe it to be a problem. From offsetting to misleading ‘eco-friendly’ claims, greenwashing comes in many forms, so what can FMs do to avoid it undermining their sustainability goals?


I am not in the building or facilities management trade, but after 30 years’ experience working on climate and energy policy, and I can spot a bogus low-carbon or green claim a mile off.

Greenwashing, or exaggerating your green credentials, will do nothing to make your business front runner in the innovative technology that is increasingly expected, such as air source heat pumps or passive cooling designs; or good practice approaches of the future, including using a renewable electricity provider and effective energy demand-side management. Dubious and unaccountable ‘green’ claims for your business will cost your customers as they try to keep up with electricity, heating, and cooling costs in your poor-efficiency buildings. And it will do nothing to help the climate, as UK summer temperatures soar and winters get wetter, impacting your properties’ fitness for purpose.

There are three criteria for good climate targets and green credentials.

First, they have to be science based and make measurable, real world carbon reductions. The gold standard is the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), that sets out clear guidance on setting, monitoring, and delivering credible climate targets. Achievements need to be made public for full disclosure and accountability to your customers.

Next the claim should not lock in small incremental reductions but set your business on a downward emissions pathway. To play its part in keeping the climate within relatively safe levels, The UK has committed to its sixth carbon budget emissions aimed at greenhouse gas emissions reduction of 78 per cent by 2035, and onward to deliver net zero emissions over the 2040s. The legislation will increasingly tighten across all sectors to comply with this imperative. Therefore, companies should not be looking to just to tweak emissions short term, but to set up for the much bigger changes to come.

Finally, carbon offsetting is not a substitute to real world emissions reduction. The highly murky world of voluntary carbon credits wants you to believe that if you save trees in Africa, then you can release copious emissions in the UK with a guilt-free conscious. I would encourage you in your green and ESG practice to give to reputable conservation projects, but don’t pretend for a minute that this is a substitute for good emissions reduction in your own facilities.

So don’t fool yourself that you can claim ‘green’ while painting on the greenwash. But recognise that the right thing to do for the climate will be the right thing for your business, your customers and the planet. Be proud to take real climate actions, and be honest in your green claims and ambition.



The built environment sector is at a critical juncture. The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently flagged “questionable” net zero carbon claims, raising alarms about greenwashing practices that could derail genuine sustainability efforts. A recent survey, ‘Greenwashing – what’s true, what’s not, and does it matter?’, underscores this concern, revealing that nearly 90 per cent of respondents recognise greenwashing as a significant problem.

Greenwashing takes many forms, from dubious offsetting schemes to misleading “eco-friendly” labels. It’s a pervasive issue that undermines the credibility of genuine sustainability initiatives. For facilities managers, navigating this landscape is crucial to maintaining both ethical standards and achieving authentic environmental goals.

The survey conducted by Futurebuild and The Anti-Greenwash Charter highlights the extensive impact of greenwashing within the industry. The findings show that:

  • 88 per cent of respondents believe greenwashing is problematic.
  • 81 per cent view it as dishonest, 72 per cent as unethical, and 43 per cent as cost-driven.

These perceptions illustrate how greenwashing not only erodes trust but also hampers real progress towards sustainability.

Examples abound where companies have made grandiose claims of being “carbon neutral” or “eco- friendly” without the evidence to back it up. These false claims often lead to significant reputational damage when the truth comes to light, causing loss of customer trust, legal challenges, and financial penalties.

In many instances, firms have marketed new building materials as “sustainable” only for independent testing to reveal that these products do not meet the proclaimed environmental standards. This type of misinformation can have severe repercussions, including the loss of contracts and strained business relationships.

To avoid falling into the greenwashing trap, FMs must adopt rigorous, transparent practices. Here are key strategies:

  • Demand Evidence: Ensure that all sustainability claims are backed by credible evidence. Utilise Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) to verify claims. According to the survey, 46 per cent of respondents already use LCAs to validate sustainability.
  • Develop Internal Standards: Establish and adhere to internal sustainability standards. Nearly 40 per cent of survey participants have created their own standards to hold supply chain partners accountable.
  • Engage Independent Consultants: Employ independent sustainability consultants to audit and verify claims. This practice not only enhances credibility but also provides an unbiased perspective on sustainability practices.
  • Implement a Green Claims Policy: Adopting a verified Green Claims Policy can significantly reduce the risk of greenwashing. Such policies ensure that all claims are transparent and backed by solid evidence, fostering trust among stakeholders.
  • Sign Up for The Anti-Greenwash Charter: Joining The Anti-Greenwash Charter signals a commitment to responsible marketing and transparency. Signatories are monitored to ensure adherence to ethical standards, enhancing their reputation and credibility.

The fight against greenwashing is critical for the integrity of the built environment sector. As an industry, we must strive for transparency and accountability. By implementing robust verification practices and engaging with initiatives like The Anti-Greenwash Charter, FMs can lead the way in fostering a genuinely sustainable future.

The path to net zero is fraught with challenges, but by confronting greenwashing head-on, we can ensure that our sustainability efforts are both genuine and impactful. It’s not just about meeting targets but about creating a built environment that truly supports the health of our planet and its people.

For more insights and strategies on combating greenwashing, visit The Anti-Greenwash Charter and join us in making a meaningful difference.

• Futurebuild and The Anti-Greenwash Charter. “Greenwashing – what’s true, what’s not, and does it matter?” Survey Report, August 2023.

About Sarah OBeirne

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