12 Questions to Test Your Sustainability Strategy

Avoid Greenwashing and other fail-factors
12 Questions to Test Your Sustainability Strategy
Publ. date 10 Sep 2014
Sustainability strategy is a notion easily used, but hard to capture. The fact that only 37 percent of CEO’s trust they have a clear business case for sustainability triggered us, as many companies claim to be sustainable. Projecting an image that differs from the real situation leads to an ‘authenticity gap’ where stakeholders receive insufficient or wrong information regarding your sustainability efforts. So how to design an accurate sustainability strategy that is part of the regular business and not functions as an add-on for communications?


In response we came up with a set of challenges aimed to support C-suite executives and ESG investors, which we call ‘the dirty dozen’. The 12 questions are intended to have a closer look at the current status of your sustainability strategy, and to identify the weak spots. Start asking the right questions, because it's useful to determine if your company is on the right track. Are you capable of answering the 12 questions? Do the check, and have a look at our dirty dozen Slideshare below. 


Practical tips to prevent greenwashing

To make sure that your company is not misleading stakeholders with communications regarding environmental practices, Terra Choice published a study called ‘The Sins of Greenwashing’ in 2010. The report can be used as a tool for communication and brand managers to prevent their company from greenwashing. Take notice of the following 7 crimes: 

  • Sin of the Hidden Trade-off
    A claim suggesting that a product is ‘green’ based on a narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues. For instance, the end product could be very green, while the process was very polluting.
  • Sin of No Proof
    An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification
  • Sin of Vagueness
    A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.
  • Sin of Irrelevance
    An environmental claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. For instance, some products contain messages that there are no CFC’s used. This is irrelevant because the use of CFC’s is already forbidden since 1995 in EU countries.
  • Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
    A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole. This happens for example with organic cigarettes.
  • Sin of Fibbing
    Environmental claims that are simply false.
  • Sin of worshipping false labels
    A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words.

Do the final check - The Sustainable Seven Model 

Through answering our dirty dozen questions, and taking notice of the 7 sins in communications, it should have become much clearer where improvement in your strategy is needed. Developing an effective and solid sustainability strategy that is aligned with the business is not an easy task. At Finch & Beak, we have more than 20 years of international experience with designing and embedding sustainability into the core of your business. Are you interested in how we establish a firm sustainability strategy? Please contact Josée van der Hoek, Founding Partner, at josee@finchandbeak.com | +31 6 28 02 18 80.

Don’t forget to download our free checklist (PDF version) at the top of the page, which contains our 7 key elements for a sustainability strategy. 

Source: MIT-Sloan: Sustainability’s Next Frontier

Image source: Flickr, NOAA's National Ocean Service

About Josée van der Hoek

Experienced strategic issues management specialist with expertise in strategy development, food waste and DJSI. | josee@finchandbeak.com

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