Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Covering sustainability: Challenges and hurdles

March 28, 2012

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Screenshot from a video by People Against Dirty

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Reporting requires more than opening your ears. Errors can occur when business claims go unchecked. Because local business and corporations recognize that sustainability factors into business decisions, pay attention to the environmental and social issues that can benefit – or put at risk – their performance and brand reputations. Additionally, few standards exist for products and labeling, so smart reporting habits will help you master skills for the sustainability beat. Here are three to try:

Beware of greenwashing.

A business can label its products as environmentally friendly, but doing so holds risks. Eco-claims can be misleading or even false. This is known as greenwashing.

Track transparency.

A main tenet of sustainable business and corporate social responsibility is transparency, or open communication on how things are done. If a business makes claims to be environmentally-friendly, they should be able to back them up with independent analysis. Transparency practices were developed to overcome greenwashing. For example, some of the biggest impacts on the environment occur in the supply of materials that are used in making a product. Tracking only manufacturing impacts, therefore, can be misleading.

Get to know labeling standards.

Know the difference between 100% natural and organic, LEED rating and Green Seal. Ecolabeling of consumer products and processes is not standard across sectors, although some groups are widely recognized for their high standards, such as Fairtrade and the Forest Stewardship Council. The Consumer Reports Greener Choices site is among the best sources for independent guidance on environmentally labeling
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