Greenwashing, a term coined in the 1980s, has become increasingly relevant in today’s construction sector. It refers to the practice where companies misleadingly brand their products or operations as environmentally friendly when they may not be significantly beneficial to the environment, or they can even be harmful.
Vague green marketing claims puzzle the consumers. In a 2022 study by The Consumers’ Union of Finland, 81% of consumers said it’s hard to identify sustainable products or services.
Unsubstantiated green claims are common.
I have no data about the extent of greenwashing in the construction sector, but sustainability claims in advertising and project promotion have increased dramatically. The EU Commission states on its Green Claims site that across industries,
- 53% of green claims give vague, misleading, or unfounded information
- 40% of claims have no supporting evidence
- Half of all green labels offer weak or non-existent verification.
There are 230 sustainability labels and 100 green energy labels in the EU, with vastly different levels of transparency.
The situation is so dire that the EU is preparing a new law on green claims. Some countries have already made greenwashing punishable. For example, marketing items as sustainable, green, or climate-friendly in Denmark without sufficient documentation can lead to fines of up to $450,000.
Greenwashing in the construction sector
- A construction project claims to be “low carbon” without showing the baseline against which it’s compared.
- A company markets greenness by focusing on just one product feature or function.
- Emissions calculations use market averages instead of the company’s actual operations.
- The solution’s greenness depends on the customer’s behavior and actions, including tasks such as energy or material efficiency.
Tähkänen urges the construction industry to decisively refrain from greenwashing. She admits it’s easy to slip into greenwashing when the motivation to change is high but the resources to implement it are low.
FIGBC has started organizing carbon roadmap workshops for built environment companies that want to commit to carbon neutrality. The organization also publishes the roadmaps. FIBIC wants to foster carbon neutrality goals that extend to the companies’ entire value chains, creating a competitive advantage and providing impactful climate actions.