Guide to Greenwashing Your Sustainability Report

I’ve read a hundred sustainability reports so you don’t have to.

New to this? Perfect. This is a guide for someone with no experience, and preferably no conscience either. By the end you will have a perfectly neutral Sustainability Report that nobody, including the CEO, will read.

Cover.

Put most of your effort into the first impression. The first page shows up as a thumbnail in emails and is the only page anyone will really see.

Main photo: Gather together all the women and people of colour at your company into a group photo. It will be awkward before and after the photo but you’ll still get smiles for the fraction of a second needed. If this simply isn’t feasible you can always use a stock photo of a windmill, solar panel, or plant-inside a lightbulb.

Page 2.

You must do this: you must put a cutout of your CEO in front of a calming background. They probably didn’t write much so be sure to format text into three columns and do the text wraparound thing when it comes to the signature and cutout. If they or their ghost-writer has writer’s block, suggest themes like “trust” and “transparency”. They will love it and you’ll be able to recycle these vague themes throughout.

Page 3.

Here is where you could put current and historical CO2e data but won’t. Someone, probably ten years ago did a quick assessment and realized that your company is objectively ruining the planet. Instead you want one or two inconsequential anecdotes from the past year. If your company is in a location with a clean electric grid: mention it but exclude any context — make it seem like your company bought renewable energy.

Scour the internet for one of the hundred-or-so rating companies until you find one that gave you an “A” or three “green leafs” or whatever. DON’T hyperlink to them. It may reveal better ratings were possible. “AA”, “AAA” or five green leafs. You especially don’t want people knowing the rating was industry-specific.

Pages 4–90.

You might think 80+ pages is a lot for something that could be communicated in four but this is the point.

A quantity over quality strategy will pay dividends (perhaps literally). You want people to open the PDF and give up. First you want to overwhelm your superiors, then the public. Your superiors will let it hang in their inbox for a few days while pretending to read it. Play along and only remind them when it’s too late.

You might be tempted to include a Table of Contents with hyperlinks. Don’t, this isn’t Wikipedia. Vagueness and disorientation is your key to success. You can spend at least four pages completely redefining what “sustainability” means to your specific company. Muddy the term as much as possible so that the reader just skips to the next part.

Reframe every economically smart environmental choice as if you’re a green pioneer. Did installing LED bulbs saving thousands of dollars? Mention the savings but frame it like you invented the bulbs. Did your company go paperless? Did your city mandate recycling? Reframe it as an initiative. There are plenty of progressive standards your company can take credit for.

Final page / Appendix.

Absolutely leave the most substantive info for last.

Did some pesky nerd do an impact assessment? Don’t worry. Most people reading your magnum obscura never made it to the end. A hundred fonts and a thousand stock photo backgrounds ensured that you froze most mobile devices.

Depending on local laws you can avoid specific definitions and GHG protocols. If so, avoid words like “direct” and “indirect”. Avoid things that have been standardized for decades. You can reinvent the wheel. Actually, make stabbing motions at anyone who suggests including “Scope 3 indirect CO2”. The higher-ups already think it makes your company look bad.

If you can’t exclude GHG emissions because your country mandates them you can: 1) Format the tables in such a way that it’s not easily copy-pasted. 2) Insert invisible characters. 3) If your corporate superiors have no conscience whatsoever, you might be able to create a small-font screenshot so that it’s both: hard to read and requires extra steps to make it searchable.

Finishing notes:

Don’t have it audited, and if you do, don’t link to it. Finally, for the love of christ, bury it fourteen pages deep on your website.

Happy greenwashing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

DANIEL VOSHART wants to see more Sustainability Report carnage. Tweet him or email him.

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Daniel Voshart

Daniel Voshart

Design | Cinematography | Criticism