Sustainability: 7 Myths and Misconceptions

In pursuit of further positive change for the planet, I’ve heard some common myths and misconceptions throughout my career, both in the workplace and in my personal life. We must break these.  False information risks preventing people from taking those crucial steps to help lower their carbon footprint.

There has been an abundance of short-termism showcased by businesses who see ESG as a marketing and profit prospect. The result of which has created a new phrase in the English lexicon; greenwashing.

So together, lets debunk some of the most common myths that I’ve heard, starting with:

Myth 1: ‘Carbon-offsetting is a short-cut to tackle global warming’

Carbon neutral and net-zero carbon[1], are terms that have been used widely over the past few years. Many businesses commit to ambitious targets which encompass carbon neutrality and net-zero emissions by a target year.

It is a fairly transactional process, once you track/report your emissions you can simply contact a broker to arrange offsetting the equivalent into an environmental project.  Most commonly these tend to be tree planting or investing in renewable energy, depending on the total amount invested, businesses can claim carbon neutrality via this transaction.

This is where the misconception lies. On the pursuit of sustainability, there’s no short-cuts. Simply paying a fairly minimal financial cost to gain sustainability achievements is not enough. The fundamental issue is that companies have invested in environmental projects but still maintained or even increased, their carbon footprint.

To avoid the risk of greenwashing and show an authentic pursuit of climate reduction, it is vital to show that greenhouse gas emissions have been reduced as much as possible and all avenues of climate reduction have been explored and actioned.

Myth 2. Hybrid vehicles are ‘greener’ than non-hybrid cars

The technology behind hybrid cars is the same and in the case of cars like the Honda Civic, there is definitely good mileage. The same technology applied in hybrid trucks and SUV’s, however, is no better than a non-hybrid. In fact, some hybrids may use more gas than a non-hybrid car and produce more pollution.

A 2020 study from Transport & Environment found that because Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV’s) are heavier than gasoline cars, they consume more fuel.

This poses a dilemma for potential plug-in hybrid buyers. They want to reduce their carbon footprint while retaining the ability to drive longer distances than an EV allows on a single charge. But it’s precisely long-distance driving that reduces the environmental benefits of PHEVs.

Myth 3. Is digital more environmentally friendly than paper?

This question resurfaces often and prompts a wide discussion of interest to me. We hear frequently “go paperless, save trees” but is that really the case? The answer is; it depends. To evaluate this accurately we have to consider and report on all of the different carbon contributors associated with digital.  The materials, usage, waste, energy, where the materials are being transported from, to name a few.

Since the advancement of technology, I’ve heard the argument that digital is more environmentally friendly than their historic paper counterparts. However, when considering the hidden product lifecycle of digital, from production through to usage to product disposal, this significantly increases the carbon footprint of electronic devices. Considering the supply chain of digital appliances, in particular the scope of locations that materials are transported to/from this may well exclude digital as the more environmental option. Additionally, in support of paper, it does have the potential to contribute carbon storing whilst digital is limited in this respect.

In 24 hours, globally we send 500 million tweets, 65 billion WhatsApp messages, 294 billion emails, generate 4000 terabytes of data on Facebook and search the web 5 billion times. Keeping all that digital information flowing, data centres globally are already devouring 2% of the global electricity supply – and that’s predicted to rise to 8% in the next ten years. Taken together, the cloud-based technologies that drive modern mass communications are also accounting for 2% of global emissions, which leaves a carbon footprint just as big as the airline industry.

Whereas, the pulp, print and paper industry accounts for 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which makes the sector one of the lowest of all industrial emitters – half the emissions generated by those data centres. Additionally, the paper industry now plants three times more trees than it cuts down each year, working hard to maintain and increase forest and woodlands around the world, with an area the equivalent to 1500 football pitches being planted every day.

The debate between digital and paper is context dependent in a two-fold way, the manufacturing conscious decision-making has a great impact on the overall sustainability of the final product, for either parties whether digital or paper. It doesn’t have to be an “either/or” choice anyway – there should always be a place for both print and digital marketing in any campaign.

Myth 4: Plastic is the problem

On the route to achieve zero waste and further sustainability across all channels, our inclination may automatically go towards eradicating plastic. It’s commonly assumed that in order to be more sustainable, one must eliminate all plastic from our buying habits. However, this is a very aspirational goal to achieve, considering our reliance on many types of plastics and the limited sustainable alternatives available in-market which deliver a similar quality finish, cost, and market availability.

Many of our day-to-day products still contain plastic, so phasing this material will be an uphill journey. That doesn’t mean you can’t cut down your plastic consumption in the places that make sense for you. Whether you are reading this from the perspective of a business or as an individual that would like to adopt sustainable changes to your household, there are a variety of ways to lower your plastic usage. Purchasing your products in bulk, will lower the amount of plastic packaging being used, use refill stations in your local community (if you’re a business, consider offering refill stations), cut out disposable products from your purchasing habits, bring your own reusable bags, bottles, boxes etc.

Depending on your purchasing habits, from my experience some types of plastic ensure further longevity of the product than say paper for example. So, we face a dilemma do we chose a material that is more harmful for the environment, but its lifecycle far outweighs its counterparts i.e., paper. Or do we choose a more sustainable material, but we know its lifecycle will be far shorter and may need changing each month. Where possible, when facing this dilemma, I’ll choose a material that focuses on longevity. My favourite being rPET, which emits 79% less carbon emissions than its virgin counterpart and significantly reduces plastic waste in our water ways whilst employing thousands of workers in developing countries.

Myth 5: Recycling Is Easy

At times, different countries, cities, boroughs, councils, and waste collectors have different capabilities on what they can or cannot recycle, solely based on location. Recycling facilities and the desire to recycle our waste is becoming embedded in our daily personal and professional lives. However, with so many municipal recycling programmes, there is a lack of knowledge on what can be recycled. There is currently just under 200 recycling emblems used worldwide, with so many ‘instructions’ its not a surprise that people find it challenging to understand the meanings behind the emblems. Exploring, the complexity of plastics; there are several types of plastics that can be recycled but many kerbside collectors are not able to recycle. For the plastic material that is recycled, it often requires a high energy expenditure to melt it and make it suitable for reuse into new plastic products. Also, many products made from recycled plastic also require a use of virgin plastic into order to retain the durability of the material.

For household waste, left over particles of food can contaminate the recyclability of the material placed in the outdoor recycling bin, it will then contaminate the recyclability of all materials in the said bin, rendering all contents to be non-recyclable. So, whilst recycling is most definitely a great practice that all businesses and households should consciously enforce, its importance to educate yourself on understanding recycling emblems, your waste collections capabilities and how to avoid contamination.

The most effective solution would be to reduce our dependence on plastic as much as possible. And in areas where we cannot reduce our plastic consumption, exhaust the avenues on how we can reuse that material. Where possible, I’d always encourage exploring other options of disposing your waste before recycling. Here at The Delta Group, we offer a take-back initiative where some of the materials that our customers may find difficult to recycling, we will collect and send back to our suppliers to re-introduce that material back into the production chain. Additionally, we also explore how we can repurpose the products at its end-of-life to donate to local causes.

Myth 6: ‘luxury goods aren’t sustainable purchases’

Having worked in fashion for some years, we’d often conduct consumer feedback sessions. A common perception that I noticed- from consumers, was the belief that premium or luxury goods were not believed to be as sustainable. Historically, some luxury brands have come under scrutiny for their minimal efforts regarding corporate responsibility and sustainability.

However, due to the financial resources that many luxury brands have, they can command more enhanced supply chain management, and have a more transparent overview of the conditions under which products are created. Quite often, hiring thousands of local high-skilled artisans to produce a high-quality product.

Patek Philippe is a good example – the slogan they use for their watches is: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” To buy something that will last for generations, is in fact very sustainable. It’s the opposite of the use-and-throw-away mentality that we so often see from lower price ranges.

If you think about the long-term value, happiness and meaning of the products before you rush to buy them, the world and environment will be better for it.

Myth 7: ‘A single individual’s choices cannot make a dent nor difference’

A most common misbelief that I’ve heard is that a single person’s action cannot make a difference. Imagine if all the individuals in a single country felt that way and acted upon it. It would be catastrophic, we would see the socio-economic impacts on our local biodiversity, agriculture, health, and many other areas. We all have a responsibility to drive forward the agenda of sustainability and protect the planet.

This journey starts with education and awareness, there are many great toolkits available to help you start this journey of action and awareness. If you’re a corporate, create an internal working group and ask your stakeholders for ideas and start with tackling those ‘easy wins’. From a household perspective, hold your local council accountable and ask what they are doing for the local environment and explore how you can get involved. Green living is essentially based on six principles: eco-friendly homes, clean transportation, water stewardship, proper disposal of waste, green energy, and sustainable and healthy food.

By making small changes in our purchasing habits i.e., buying quality products instead of quantity, to ensure that product has a longer lifecycle will help. Along with, recording and reporting your carbon footprint and setting realistic science-based reduction targets. Lastly, collaborate with like-minded people and organisations to share resources. There are so many resources available, take advantage of them and share with others.


[1] Carbon offsetting is an environmental investment where emissions generated are balanced out by environmental initiatives by absorb or sequester the equivalent emissions, with the support of the business.