It's not easy being green

When it comes to sustainability, image is (almost) everything.

The practice of “greenwashing,” whereby consumers are misled about the environmental benefits of a product or company, proves the maxim that image is everything. According to the results of a recent report by the business consultancy Maddock Douglas, greenwashing works: a company can have a “green” image, even when its practices aren’t, and vice versa.

In the Maddock Douglas report, 90 companies scored across 10 sectors revealed some huge disparities. Among the largest was Wendy’s, which had a perceived sustainability score of 64 out of 100, and an actual score of just two. Marc Stoiber of Maddock Douglas said he was “baffled” by Wendy’s high perception score and could find no hard evidence to explain it, except to say that it may be because Wendy’s offers “baked potatoes and a salad bar,” and people equate healthy choices with sustainable green practice.

Representing the opposite trend was Unilever, which has made substantial efforts to increase its sustainability – reflected in an actual score of 79 – but public perception of the brand lags at 32, which suggests that consumers may simply not equate the types of personal products Unilever sells (antiperspirants, cleaning supplies, etc.) with green. In other words, it’s not enough to walk green, you have to talk green, too.