Malcolm Rands: Greenwashing

Greenwashing is when a company purports to be environmentally conscious for marketing purposes but actually isn’t making any notable sustainability efforts.

A USA survey recently found 95 percent of so called green products violated the common principles we are going to talk about.

Hidden Trade-off: a claim that a product is “green” based on an unreasonably narrow set of attributes without attention to other important environmental issues.

paper, for example, is not necessarily environmentally-preferable just because it comes from a sustainably-harvested forest. Other important environmental issues in the paper-making process, including energy, greenhouse gas emissions, and water and air pollution, may be equally or more significant.

No Proof: a claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible information or by a reliable third-party certification.

Vagueness: a claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. “All-natural”, for example isn’t necessarily “green”. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous but certainly not green.

Or 90 percent biodegradable. What does this mean. Even nuclear waste is biodegradable if you wait a few hundred thousand years.

Worshiping False Labels: a claim that, through words or images, gives the impression of a third-party endorsement where none exists.. Marketers make up their own label or the whole packaging looks like an eco product even though it’s not

Having said that, a reputable third party certification can be the solution to greenwash by giving certainty that the claims are true

Irrelevance: a claim that may be truthful but which is unimportant or unhelpful to consumers seeking environmentally-preferable products. Again, a good example is the over use of biodegradable and compostable.

Especially now around plastics that would only biodegrade in a commercial compost facility but makes you think you could throw them in your own compost bin.

Lesser of Two Evils: a claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting consumers from the greater environmental impact of the category as a whole. Like organic cigarettes or a new V8 sports car with slightly better fuel efficiency.

Fibbing: a claim that is simply false. This is the rarest sin in NZ as the competitors will quickly let the trade commission know.

The big danger here is that people think they are doing the right thing for the planet and they are actually doing very little. It’s a distraction from making real change.

The other danger is the people become disillusioned with all green products and will just give up trying to do the right thing.

The solution is to do a bit of research yourselves.

Check out the company website and see if they can back up their claims with specific data and searchable references

And look for real third party certification.

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