In recent years, as sustainability and climate change concerns have become mainstream, there have been an increasing number of companies claiming to have introduced initiatives to minimize their environmental impact, reduce emissions, and even work towards zero waste. In fact, you would probably find it difficult to find a company that hasn’t claimed some kind of positive environmental and social quality over the past decade.
They say all the right things to all the right people, promoting their eco-friendly claims in all the right places, but with a bit of digging, they are shown to be no more zero waste or eco friendly than they were before. Many claims of zero (or even reduced) waste by large companies turn out to be greenwashing, not truly reflecting their overall environmental performance.
Greenwashing is a spin or claim that makes people believe a company is more environmentally friendly than it actually is. Recently, many multinational companies have been called out for this type of claim, with Procter & Gamble, for example, boasting that their Head & Shoulders shampoo bottles are sustainable products made of “beach plastic” while at the same time dying them blue, which stops them from being recycled.
For consumers, and even businesses, looking to purchase products or source sustainable materials, these types of claims make it difficult to separate the fake claims from the factual, or know which companies are trying in earnest to be zero waste and which are jumping on the greenwashing bandwagon. So, how can consumers and businesses avoid falling into the greenwashing trap?
Below, we’re going to look at how you can navigate through the greenwash using online tools and what to look for when checking a company’s zero-waste credentials.
Tools for Checking Sustainability Credentials
When you come across a company claiming to be zero waste, the first thing you can do is run it through one of a number of online tools to check how it stacks up against the competition. These online tools tend to compare companies’ sustainability claims more generally, rather than specifically zero waste, but are still a valuable starting point to understand how the supply chain can affect claims such as “fair trade.”
Running since 1989, this magazine and now online database rates more than 40,000 brands on their sustainable practices. This includes everything from energy companies to banks to health and beauty.
Unlike some of the other tools, Ethical Consumer is a subscription service, so some of the company profile details will be hidden without a paid account. However, there is still plenty of information about companies and how they compare to one another available for free.
Good on You
This directory of brands is specifically for fashion, but considering that there is an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste from the fashion industry every year, it’s a necessary zero-waste tool.
This tool breaks down clothes by category in case you’re actively looking for a garment, but more interestingly for checking zero-waste credentials, there is a simple search bar where you can check companies.
What’s more, a company’s profile or social media should list all of the verified certifications it has, which can be incredibly useful, as we’ll explore below.
Zero Waste & Sustainability Certifications
In addition to using online tools to check a company’s zero-waste credentials, you can also look for third-party certifications – probably one of the simplest and most reliable ways to ensure a business is following through on its claims and that it sells certified products.
Companies will often display zero-waste certifications on their websites and marketing materials – start by looking in the footer of the website before checking the “about” section. If a company is claiming zero waste to landfill, or something similar, but doesn’t have a single badge on their site to indicate an external audit by a certifying body, that may be a bit of a red flag.
Almost all of these programs require third-party verification from sustainability professionals to prove that claims are being continually met. This means that greenwashing is minimized or entirely eliminated as transparency and rigorous testing are the foundation of these programs.
Here are some of the certification programs to look for when checking a company or organization’s zero-waste credentials.
One of the most popular accreditations to look for in North America is the Total Resource Use and Efficiency (TRUE) Certification. TRUE certification is aimed at the waste output of physical facilities, including businesses, institutions, and property managers. Any project wanting a TRUE certification must aim to divert all solid waste from landfill, incineration, and the environment, with an average of at least 90% in the previous 12 months.
What’s more, any business with a TRUE certification must:
- Meets all federal, state, and local waste and recycling laws.
- Comply with all air, water, and land discharge permits.
- Have data documenting a base year of waste diversion and ongoing measurements
- Submit a year’s worth of waste diversion data annually
- Not exceed a 10% contamination level for any materials leaving the site
Knowing a business must comply with all these requirements to get a TRUE certification makes it very useful when checking a company’s zero-waste credentials.
There is also a TRUE certification for events if you want to check that any conferences, festivals, sporting events, etc., that claim to be zero waste actually are. The requirements for this have been adapted from the main certification so you know that it is a robust indicator.
Underwriters Laboratory Landfill Waste Diversion Validation
This Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certification should be checked for when validating a company’s zero-waste credentials since it is a highly respected organization with strict requirements for certification.
In order to have Underwriters Laboratory Landfill Waste Diversion Validation, a company must have at least 90% diversion through methods other than waste to energy, with varying levels achievable:
- Silver 90-94% diversion
- Gold 95-99% diversion
- Platinum 100% diversion
The UL certification has been running for more than a decade and so is a good validation when trying to verify a company’s zero-waste credentials.
ZWIA Zero Waste Business Certification
The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) has been a benchmark for strict zero-waste methods for many years and offers two certifications that can be looked for when verifying a business’s zero-waste credentials. The two certifications ZWAI offers are a Zero Waste Business Certification and a Zero Waste Community Certification.
If a business has a ZWAI Zero Waste Business Certification, it means that they have achieved a diversion rate of more than 90% and committed to increasing that rate by 1% every year, with the aim of hitting 100% in a decade.
ZWAI is very strict in its definition of zero waste and the implementation of its certificates, so you can be safe in the knowledge that any business wearing one has respectable zero-waste credentials.
Carbon Trust Zero Waste to Landfill Certification
Another certification to look out for when checking a company’s zero-waste credentials is the Carbon Trust Zero Waste to Landfill Certification, which aims to help businesses divert waste away from landfills through various methods.
The certification process aims to identify organizations that demonstrate leadership in waste management, specifically rewarding those that promote a circular economy and work towards Net Zero goals. In addition, it offers expert advice to drive continuous improvement withing all kinds of companies.
The program offers Carbon Neutral certification that gives points based on the greenhouse gasses a company emits, also looking at waste-to-energy systems that can be misleading to consumers and businesses. That said, it does encourage a move away from incineration towards more sustainable alternatives – such as avoidance of waste at the source.
B Corp is a global non-profit certification system that measures a company’s social and environmental performance. Certified B Corp organizations must meet rigorous international standards that cover performance, accountability, and transparency for all stakeholders—from supply chains fro raw materials through employee to customers.
The certification process aims to legally bind companies to sustainable development, with verified B Corps required to reach a B score of 80 or above and demonstrate that they are continually working within the designated frameworks.
This commitment to redesigning existing linear systems is central to the B Corp vision of a circular economy, with specific zero-waste goals that aim to reduce and reuse waste to benefit the economy.
Use the tools we’ve listed, look for the certificates we’ve mentioned, and above all, think critically about any company’s zero-waste credentials. Accreditation is really useful, but you’ll find yourself able to cut through a lot of the most obvious greenwashing simply by avoiding taking claims at face value and digging a little deeper into a company’s real-world environmental stewardship.
For more information about zero-waste practices, subscribe to zerowaste.com. If you’re a business that wants to go zero waste and ensure you have the proper credentials, speak to one of our TRUE advisors today.