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The Red Flags of Greenwashing in Construction

Jul 3, 2023 | News, Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming a key factor for consumers when they select who they buy from.  As a result, some businesses overstate or misrepresent their sustainability credentials, otherwise known as ‘greenwashing’. Our guide on the red flags of greenwashing in the construction industry will help you to identify companies that aren’t as ‘sustainable’ as they sound.   

Watch their Language 

As the construction industry transitions to a circular economy, we have begun to hear a lot of new and potentially confusing terms for products. While names such as ‘eco-aggregates’ undoubtedly come with good intentions behind them, it is important to reduce confusion for customers through incomparable names. The CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) found a range of construction companies using terms such as ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ without explaining the terms or providing any real evidence of these claims (2022). This can be a RED flag that a company may be greenwashing. 

Similarly, the rise in claims of ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘net zero’ are notable. Carbon neutrality can be achieved through buying offsets, without any improvements in the business’s operations to directly reduce their environmental impact. Becoming net zero is achieved without the help of offsets by, for example, improving efficiencies, switching to more sustainable suppliers or materials and reducing consumption.  

Compliance 

As a customer, the compliance standards and regulations for products are paramount when selecting a supplier. Standards such as the Specification for Highway works, British Standards and the WRAP Quality Protocol are all essentials to look out for when choosing your recycled aggregates supplier. 

Similarly, check a company’s sustainability certificates to back up any claims they make. This will also ensure that your own sustainability reporting and claims are valid. Your supply chain is your responsibility.  

Some well-regarded sustainability-based accreditations to look out for include Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) for transparent environmental impact for products, the ‘EcoVadis Supply Chain Rating’ which boosts credibility by being assessed by international experts, and the ‘ISO 14064’ which is a global standard for carbon reporting.  These accreditations can be a big GREEN flag for companies in avoiding greenwashing accusations. 

Information on our Compliance & Accreditation can be found here. 

Awards  

Another GREEN flag is gaining external recognition for progress. Consideration should be given to the sponsors of potential awards and what their overall aims are.  

For example, groups such as VIBES or the National Recycling Awards have clear grounding in sustainability. VIBES has been running for over 10 years, establishing partnerships with the Scottish Government, SEPA, and other reputable institutions, indicating that these accolades are well-regarded. 

Licensing  

Another tip on how to spot greenwashing is by checking licensing. The waste industry is one of the most regulated in the UK, and everyone within the waste chain has a responsibility. You should ensure the company you use to deal with your waste holds a Waste Carrier License, and if they are processing waste themselves too, a Waste Management License.  

Albion Environmental are well-known experts within the Scottish industry and provide useful explanations on licensing issues. 

Waste Codes & Documentation  

If the company you’re using to dispose of your waste is claiming to be good for the environment but fails to do their due diligence by ensuring you have the correct waste codes and documentation, it’s a big RED flag for greenwashing. It is a legal requirement to have waste classified before being sent to an appropriate facility. Similar to licensing, Albion Environmental provide a wealth of information and training on waste codes. 

Sustainability Reporting  

Despite the guidance in place for sustainability reporting in the UK, it is currently rife for greenwashing. There is a growing expectation for all companies throughout the supply chain to be able to provide meaningful and accurate sustainability reporting. In the UK, Sustainable Disclosure Requirements (SDR) are still to be finalized and implemented as the 2023 sustainability reporting standard in the UK, which ties together different reporting structures. It is also important to note that companies have a legal duty of care to comply with the DEFRA Waste Hierarchy, which raises awareness of business impact on the environment.  

We understand from extensive discussions with main contractors that sustainability reporting is increasing in importance across the supply chain and becoming essential for sub-contractors to consider. In the near future, Brewster Brothers will supply sustainability reporting to provide accurate and easy to understand information to support its customers with their carbon reporting requirements.   

There are a number of sustainability-related factors to consider when dealing with a new company. Hopefully our guide will help you become aware of what to look out for in the future.

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