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Green isn’t always what it seems.

AT&T claimed to be the “World’s Record” holder for recycling phones, and paid Guinness for the right to say so.

Fact is, Sprint is far ahead of them, but missed the boat on telling their customers.

What’s the harm? Well, greenwashing erodes customer trust.

Greenwashing makes consumers feel tricked and less likely to believe genuinely green claims that might positively influence their choices.

Hat tip to Marc Gunther for his reporting.

Via SustainableBusiness.com:

Sorry, Wrong Number: AT&T’s Recycling Claim Doesn’t Add Up

AT&T says it collected 3 million cell phones for reuse and recycling in 2011. Sprint says it collected 11 million in 2011–an average of more than 200,000 a week, easily topping AT&T’s so-called record.

Gunther uses this example as an opportunity to talk about how businesses can do a better job of assessing, counting and reporting on their environmental impacts.

What’s needed here are common metrics and better transparency, as well a concept called sustainability context. Sustainability context that seeks to put corporate claims in the context of what the planet’s limits are when it comes to greenhouse gas reductions, water usage and the like.

Context is a fascinating development that brings absolute limits and thresholds into the mix.

“How many?” leaps beyond “Out of how many?” to the real question we face: “How much can the planet handle?”

Now things are getting interesting.