The 5 Sins of Greenwashing in the SA Building Industry

  • South Africa’s green building movement is currently undergoing a transformation.
  • Faith and credibility entrusted in organisations whose responsibility it is to lead the initiative has been waning.
  • Greenwashing has become rampant due to poor corporate governance and governments inability to apply regulatory authority.

Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice. Greenwashing can make a company or industry appear to be more environmentally friendly than it really is. Here are 5 sins of greenwashing in the South African Green Building Industry.

The sin of pretension: Green buildings are glamorised and advertised in glossy magazines. Green features are rattled off with little evidence of functionality and practicality. The underlying pillars of sustainability and realities of climate change are lost in trendy canapés and free champagne.

The sin of no evidence: Green buildings typically carry an accreditation that is not backed up by evidence or independent third party verification. Not one so-called ‘green accredited building’ in South Africa makes performance reporting available for public or government scrutiny.

The sin of false branding: Becoming a member of a green building organisation does not make your company or product green. The association misleads consumers into thinking that a product or service has been through a legitimate green certification process. Most green building organisations do not vet their members nor their members’ products or services. Effectively anyone can be a member as long as they pay their subscription.

The sin of fronting: Fronting commonly involves reliance on data or claims of compliance based on misrepresentations of facts, whether made by the organisation claiming compliance or by any other person. Fronting also involves companies or individuals who have not disclosed their qualification, representation or interests fully.

The sin of marginalisation: The green building industry stakeholders are seen as self-serving which is underpinned by large corporate sponsorships. The work tends to circulate between sponsor organisations while the government and the general public are seen as peripheral. The barriers to entry are significant while access to verify product, service or building performance is restricted.

Author: Bryan Groenendaal    


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