Greenwashing in Education

Greenwashing in Education

As more and more schools become vocal about their commitment to the UN’s sustainable development goals, it’s essential to take a step back and judge these green marketing statements to assess their validity. Sadly, greenwashing, which is when a company purports to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but actually isn’t making any notable sustainability efforts, is a becoming a prominent issue in the Education sector. Particularly as sustainability grows in popularity and schools aim to stand out, align with the environmental values of parents, students, and staff, and show leadership in the space.

Unsurprisingly, greenwashing is now a common practice in every industry. In fact, Nearly 60% of sustainable fashion claims are greenwashing and even the most popular furniture retailer have been linked with illegal logging. So much so that financial regulators have began to clamp down on companies misleading investors by overstating the greenness of their funds. And schools are, sadly, no different. 

To become sustainable, schools should be aiming to consume fewer natural resources, minimize waste and educate students on the importance of living a green-minded life inside and outside the resource-efficient institutions. But how can we cut through the noise and detect which schools are committed to taking the green route and which are simply sharing misleading claims (sometimes unknowingly) as a part of their marketing strategy or promoting green initiatives while doing little to actually reduce their impact in areas where they truly could make a difference? 

What is greenwashing in international schools?

Greenwashing in the Education sector is when a school purports to be environmentally conscious by promoting initiatives, which generally have little impact but are used for marketing purposes, while failing to or refusing to take meaningful climate action in other areas of the school. We see this when there is no strategy or policy in place to ensure that sustainability is a key part of the decision-making process. At Kapes we have experienced it first hand with schools that say sustainability is a key pillar within the school but choose to sign multi-year contracts with uniform suppliers that produce oil derived synthetic fibres that directly contribute to climate change.

Are schools promising to incorporate eco-literacy into a school curriculum or stating that they will be Net Zero by a certain year but remainining silent about their plan? Are they making any efforts to meet the SDGs 4 and 12 on Quality Education and Responsible Consumption and Production in order to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education all while minimizing their environmental footprint?  

Vague, meaningless language is also a common greenwashing practice in marketing messages – especially if it isn’t backed up by any evidence or certifications. Because greenwashing is basically the lack of sustainability-centred intent, effort, and education.

Ways to avoid intentional or unintentional greenwashing in schools

Transparency is the key to avoiding greenwashing, and thus, institutions must reflect on what they try to communicate and the specific methods used to appear more green-minded to their students, staff, and beyond. While sometimes unintentional, even a slightly inflated headline can turn into yet another greenwashing example. 

While tempting, schools should resist stretching the truth about the eco-achievements they’re making. On the contrary, it’s important to embrace the weaknesses and successes with equal transparency and take an evidence-based approach to measure the coverage of SDGs. 

Schools can try replacing catchphrases like “green” and “eco-conscious” with to-the-point, measurable information, supported by facts and data to build trust and be 100% authentic with their core message.   

Also, even if institutions have taken the greenwashing route in the past by sharing overstatements, it’s important to take accountability and promptly correct the errors.

Conclusion

Sustainability is a journey, and it is perfectly fine for schools to be upfront about where they are along the journey. In fact, being honest and genuine about this is far more likely to be applauded. While the right sustainability initiatives should be celebrated and can lead to buy in for the school community and beyond, consistency is key, and efforts to reduce environmental impact should be made school wide. 

Ultimately, schools should take some time to truly understand why sustainability is so important in education and why students and staff alike will benefit from the school’s authentic sustainability agenda. 

The best way to avoid greenwashing in schools is to have a clear SDG strategy with specific guidelines of the framework , procurement policies that include sustainability as a key metric, and to take action as authentically and transparently as possible. 

You may also like