Most construction professionals concerned about greenwashing, survey finds

Misleading or inaccurate sustainability claims by firms selling to the construction sector are a concern for professionals, according to a new report, while most respondents said they would pay more for products with verified claims for eco credentials.

An industry survey by Futurebuild and the Anti-Greenwash Charter of 430 professionals across the construction sector, ‘Greenwashing: What’s true, what’s not, and does it matter?’ found that 88% saw greenwashing as a “problem” currently. Architects made up the largest segment (11.6%), followed by academics, ‘sustainability managers,’ and engineers. 

Half of the respondents said they had been in “face to face interactions with someone telling them a more positive version of events than was verifiable,” in terms of the eco performance claims made for products or services.

The report said that sustainability messages were often “more generous than companies were willing to commit to,” and one verbatim quote from respondents said that manufacturers were not the only source of questionable claims: “‘Net zero carbon’ is the biggest claim we see for developers at the moment, and when their embodied carbon rates are published, they are often higher than LETI/UKGBC/GLA targets.” The respondents said that the least trusted ‘eco’ marketing phrases were ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘environmentally friendly.’

The report said the industry needed a “universal term” to enable informed decisions, so they were “not open to interpretation and misuse.” Currently, it said, with “no nationally agreed standards of vocabulary,” professionals were “relying on individual interpretation which can vary wildly.”

The Futurebuild/Anti-Greenwash Charter report said there could be “huge consequences for a brand’s reputation” of engaging in greenwash, although 56% of respondents admitted they did not have a “verified published green claims policy” in their organisation. 57% had however become “more rigorous in asking for evidence” from suppliers,” and 49% were using Environmental Product Declarations to that end.

A resounding 72% of respondents said they’d pay more for a product which was from a company “investing in providing greater evidence for sustainable claims.” The Anti-Greenwash Charter is a leading body providing accountability and transparency on claims for eco performance and criteria such as embodied carbon. 

Martin Hurn, event director at Futurebuild commented on the findings: “Green claims must be substantiated by evidence,” however added that “we understand the complexities businesses face in marketing their products.”