With growing awareness of the wider impact of our consumption and investment decisions, there is a strong incentive for companies to attract customers by marketing their positive contribution to environmental or social issues. However, the complexity of these topics means that the risk of misinforming consumers can be high, and whether intentional or mis-intentional, ‘greenwashing’ is prevalent.
”Greenwashing is an attempt to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it is. ”
It's not easy being green...
A ‘sustainable’ product is a product that causes little or no damage to the environment. There are very few products that can credibly make this claim, but there is a lot that can be done to move towards a more sustainable future and the credible brands are those that are transparent about those challenges and set the right goals to achieve sustainability
Greenwashing is a communication or marketing technique pursued by companies that propose their activities as environmentally sustainable, enhancing the positive effects of some initiatives and at the same time trying to hide the negative environmental impact of others or of the company as a whole.
Greenwashing refers to communications around the environmental performance of a product or company, however ‘sustainability’ encompasses a much greater spectrum of both the impact on the environment and the social impact on society as a whole.
The complexity starts with how you assess the sustainability of a product: for example, does one focus on the product itself or the way that the product is produced? Seemingly ‘sustainable’ products can have unsustainable elements to their production or supply chain. And ‘unsustainable’ products, can outperform their industry making them ‘sustainable’ solutions in an unsustainable space!
The value of the right label
Many products carry labels claiming they are ‘green’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘eco friendly’. In reality, there is often little transparency as to what these labels actually mean.
Many labels are created by the seller and only tell a part of the story, claiming to be ‘organic’ or ‘recycled’ without clearly communicating the details of these claims. They also say nothing for the wider practises and materials used in the value chain.
Alternatively, labels provided by third party certifiers are awarded if the product meets the criteria set by that certifier. Such independent third-party certification provides credibility and trust, but consumers need to be able to distinguish between the two and understand what they stand for.
The most common forms of greenwashing are:
1. Focusing on one ‘green’ characteristic of a product, whilst ignoring negative environmental impact elsewhere in the value chain.
2. Making misleading claims, which do not paint a complete picture; for example, claiming that a product is made out of recycled materials when the actual percentage of recycled materials makes up only a small percentage of the inputs.