Characteristics to Avoid: Spin and Greenwash

Can you believe what you read in sustainability reports?

When we hear that a corporation has been untrustworthy, we tend to paint all corporations with the same brush.  But just as there are degrees of trustworthiness in individuals, the same can be said for corporations.

The public relations function was originally designed to communicate an organization’s mission statement and values to the public. The purpose was to develop honest relationships with stakeholders to ensure that an organization actually does what it promises to do.   But today, due to many corporate scandals, the term “public relations” often is associated with “spin”.

Spin means that circumstances or the reporting of the circumstances is characterized in any of the following ways:

  • is presented in a biased, not a balanced manner;
  • has certain material or important details missing;
  • promotes a misleading perception; or
  • is conveyed in a manner that draws attention to the positive and minimizes the negative aspects.

When referring to environmental reports (or the environmental dimension of sustainability activities), spin is often referred to as greenwashing.   A report that has greenwashing is not entirely credible and accurate.  Readers will not trust that the information conveys the organization’s true performance.