Greenwashing: how to be genuinely sustainable in dentistry

Authentic sustainability: the pitfalls of greenwashing

As more consumers than ever demand services that are environmentally friendly, transparency and honesty are key to preventing greenwashing and being authentically sustainable, says Mark Topley.

It seems that virtually every consumer brand on the planet is keen to align itself with the growing consumer demand for sustainability – and for good reason. The desire for sustainable practices is not just a trend, but a commitment from consumers and businesses alike. 

A recent survey by Accenture highlights this shift, with 77% of consumers considering a company’s social and environmental efforts before making a purchase and 76% ready to turn their backs on businesses that neglect environmental and employee welfare. 

This growing demand for responsibility has pushed brands across all sectors, including dentistry, to reflect on their impact and strive for genuine sustainability.

However, amid this pursuit, some companies have stumbled, presenting an image of environmental friendliness that doesn’t fully match their practices – a misstep known as ‘greenwashing’. 

The story of Volkswagen’s entanglement in the ‘dieselgate’ scandal serves as a stark reminder of the risks involved. Volkswagen faced immense legal and financial challenges after it was discovered the company used software to falsely lower emissions data for its vehicles. This deception not only led to recalls and fines amounting to billions of dollars but also damaged Volkswagen’s reputation significantly.

The term ‘greenwashing’, which originated in the 1980s, describes the practice of falsely portraying products or services as environmentally friendly. 

As we find ourselves in an era where such practices have become more sophisticated, it’s essential for those in the dental profession and industry committed to real sustainability to communicate their efforts and achievements transparently, setting themselves apart from misleading claims.

Navigating murky waters

To navigate the murky waters of greenwashing, it’s helpful to understand its common forms:

  • Greencrowding: using eco-certifications and logos to obscure a less-than-stellar environmental record. The key here is to look beyond the surface and evaluate the actual environmental impact of practices
  • Green lighting: highlighting one green feature to distract from broader environmental harm. True sustainability involves a holistic approach that addresses all aspects of environmental impact
  • Green labelling: using vague terms like ‘natural’, which imply sustainability without concrete backing. Authentic claims should always be supported by credible, independent certifications
  • Green shifting: placing the onus of environmental responsibility solely on consumers, thereby avoiding corporate accountability. Businesses must own their part in environmental care
  • Green rinsing: making superficial changes that appear green but don’t significantly alter the environmental footprint. Real change requires a deep, impactful revision of products and practices
  • Green hushing: underplaying genuine green achievements for fear of being accused of greenwashing. Transparency and confidence in communicating real progress are vital.

Practical steps

To ensure your dental practice not only strives for but also communicates sustainability authentically, consider the following strategies:

  • Avoid vague language: terms such as ‘eco-friendly’ are too broad. Be specific about your sustainable practices and their impact
  • Honesty is key: if you’re in the process of achieving environmental goals, share this journey with your audience. Transparency builds trust
  • Set realistic targets: focus on environmental objectives that are measurable and attainable, ensuring you can deliver on your promises
  • Seek third-party verification: sustainable certifications from reputable entities can bolster your credibility and reassure consumers
  • Audit your supply chain: since supply chains can be significant sources of emissions, auditing them helps verify your environmental claims
  • Support claims with evidence: use data and concrete examples to back up your sustainability claims, giving them weight and reliability
  • Share progress regularly: transparency through regular sustainability reports builds confidence among consumers, stakeholders and regulators
  • Educate your team and patients: ensure everyone involved understands the importance of genuine sustainability and the risks of greenwashing. Promote sustainable practices within your team and among your patients.

Dental practices seeking to navigate the complexities of sustainability can turn to resources like Go Practice Green and Dental Susnet for tailored guidance and support.

Embrace the challenge

As stewards of both oral and planetary health, we have a responsibility to foster an environment of transparency and authenticity in our sustainability efforts. By recognising and rejecting greenwashing, we uphold the trust of our patients and lead our industry towards a truly sustainable future. Let’s embrace this challenge with commitment and integrity, knowing that our actions contribute to a healthier planet and community.

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