Cleansing The Greenwash

March 1, 2022

Cleansing The Greenwash

The term ‘greenwash is now listed in the Cambridge English dictionary – “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.  Fundamentally a marketing technique, the practice has become more widespread as manufacturers and suppliers believe there is commercial gain through exaggerated or misleading claims relating to sustainability and environmental impact.

Greenwashing is becoming increasingly treacherous with many publications and websites‘ naming and shaming’. Manufacturers must, therefore, be open and honest about the terms they use. This will actually protect ‘best intentions’ and provide consumers with a better knowledge to make informed choices. 

Ocean bound plastic, for example, refers to a plastic that is bound for (or heading to) the ocean. It is not necessarily plastic reclaimed from the ocean. Preventing waste from reaching our seas is a good thing as retrieval is extremely difficult. Plastic has often already disintegrated into harmful smaller traces, or the material is so contaminated that recycling is not viable. What’s important is that the suppliers should explain the difference, so buyers understand what they are buying.

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Openness and honesty are key criteria. Most people recognise that change is difficult and not without cost implications. The drive to greater sustainability is a journey and companies need to describe their approach in a transparent way.

In September 2021, the Competition and Market Authority published new guidance about “making environmental claims on goods and services”. (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-claims-code-making-environmental-claims/environmental-claims-on-goods-and-services#appendix---legal-framework)

Within the summary, the CMA highlights: “Consumer protection law does not prevent businesses from making environmental claims about their products and services, provided they do not mislead consumers. It provides a framework for businesses to make environmental claims that help consumers make informed choices. Consumer protection law, therefore, gives consumers important protection in relation to environmental claims.”

The guidance sets out principles that are designed to help businesses comply with the law. These include the need to be clear, accurate and unambiguous; must not omit or hide relevant information; claims must include the full life cycle of the product or service; and, importantly, must be substantiated.

Any manufacturer or supplier making dubious claims are putting themselves at risk of prosecution. The CMA can go to court to enforce consumer protection law. It also has the power to protect businesses from misleading marketing by other businesses.

There is an imperative need for companies to work collaboratively – to share knowledge and work towards a more sustainable future. The journey is difficult but hiding behind marketing spin isn’t the answer.

Joanna Knight has over 30 years of experience in the office/workplace sector. She currently works as a marketing consultant focused on sustainability. She is also Sustainability and Circular Economy Manager at Women in Office Design, a Council member at FIRA and the FISP Advisory Committee.

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