Most companies want to be sustainable but face challenges along the way. From getting senior leadership on board to installing solar panels, going green is easier said than done. In the end, only 2% ever follow through on their promises for a more eco-friendly future.

Below you’ll find 9 popular brands that fall into the all-too-common bin of empty promises — and five that are keeping their word.

1. Philips

Phillips had good intentions when it released its Earthlight compact fluorescent lightbulbs. However, these energy-efficient bulbs were incompatible with most lamps at the time. It turns out requiring consumers to toss perfectly good lights isn’t very sustainable.

2. Valspar

Paint often contain volatile organic compounds and chemicals that pollute the air. To minimize toxic fumes, Valspar removed an additive from one of its paint lines. As the weather grew warmer, it began to grow bacteria and reek like cat urine. The company ended up compensating hundreds of people and re-introducing the chemical to their paints.

3. Amazon

Shopping online with Amazon is convenient but terrible for the environment. Trucks transport millions of packages nationwide each day, adding to carbon emissions and accelerating global warming. The company has pledged to go carbon neutral with half of its shipments by 2030. However, it has since rejected a motion to pass a climate proposal.

4. Starbucks

Two years ago, Starbucks began banning plastic straws in its stores and replacing them with strawless lids. However, in response to the change, customers used between 0.32 and 0.88 grams of plastic per beverage, upping their use of the material.

5. McDonald’s

Similarly, McDonald’s restaurants in Ireland and the U.K. replaced their plastic straws with paper ones. While the plastic versions were recyclable, the new ones were not. The golden arches were cutting down trees to save the oceans.

6. Tide

To cater to their eco-conscious consumers, Tide created a purclean laundry detergent that it claimed was 100% plant-based. However, this statement wasn’t true because it was still using non-plant ingredients derived from petroleum.

7. Nestle

Nestle has claimed to source its cocoa beans sustainably. However, a 2019 class-action lawsuit alleges that this simply isn’t the case. Its cocoa production and harvesting methods rely on deforestation and child labor.

8. Kauai Coffee

This coffee company advertised its single-serving coffee pods as 100% compostable. However, the typical consumer couldn’t add them to their backyard compost pile. Instead, they would have to send them to an industrial facility to decompose, making Kauai’s claims incredibly misleading.

9. Reynolds American

Reynolds American has touted its cigarettes as eco-friendly. After all, its sales team uses hybrid cars and hand dryers. However, many tobacco-free campaigns have pointed out that cigarette smoke spews thousands of chemicals into the air, and their butts litter the earth.


Who’s Going Green?

While many companies are spewing empty promises and failing to be sustainable, others follow through on going green. Here are just a few that have successfully pledged to prioritize sustainability.

1. Rocky Mountain Institute

Rocky Mountain Institute focuses on consulting, research and publications in the field of sustainability. The company has been around for nearly 40 years and now prioritizes energy efficiency, climate finance and clean economies.

2. REI

Cooperatives often rely on sustainable business models that focus on community and worker well-being, and REI is no exception. The co-op has instituted product sustainability standards that apply to more than 1,000 of its brands.

3. Chipotle

The famous Mexican grill plans to divert half of its waste from landfills by the end of this year. To accomplish this goal, it has begun recycling gloves into trash bags, and 88% of restaurants now have a diversion program.

4. Google

Google aims to run on carbon-free electricity by 2030, and it’s already making huge strides toward that goal. The company has been carbon-neutral since 2007 and recently wiped out its entire carbon footprint by investing in high-quality offsets.

5. United

In 2016, United Airlines became the first airline to fly with sustainable jet fuel. Since then, it has bought millions of gallons of biofuel. Recently, it committed to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2050.


From Sustainability to Success

If your company has set sustainability goals, having a way to measure those goals is key. One of the biggest pitfalls for companies becoming more sustainable is either not setting sustainability targets or trying to target too many metrics at once.

Instead, pick one or two indicators of sustainability and go from there. Some key indicators of a successful sustainability strategy include lowering your carbon footprint, energy consumption, water reduction rate and product recycling rate.

Consumers love eco-friendly brands. More than one-third of them are willing to pay 25% more for sustainable products. Once companies attract these customers, they’ll likely retain them and reduce the costs associated with recruiting new ones. Ultimately, this strategy will prove cost-effective and profitable as well as good for the planet.


As with all content written by freelance contributors, the views expressed above belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SEE Change

Jane Marsh, founder and editor-in-chief of, is passionate about helping people reduce their carbon footprint and live a greener lifestyle.

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