Business and Operations
Not easy being green – or sin-free
December 16, 2009 By Tuija Seipell
If you haven’t thought about greenwashing, it’s probably time you did.
You might be greenwashing, or appear to be greenwashing, even if you
don’t realize it. The best defence is to be clear and truthful about
“green” claims – to say only what you do and do exactly what you say.
But being green and avoiding greenwashing are not always as easy as
If you haven’t thought about greenwashing, it’s probably time you did. You might be greenwashing, or appear to be greenwashing, even if you don’t realize it. The best defence is to be clear and truthful about “green” claims – to say only what you do and do exactly what you say. But being green and avoiding greenwashing are not always as easy as that.
Consumers want to be green but they’re suspicious of green claims. However, sustainability is not just a trend; avoiding it is not an option for businesses. Green continues to sell and sustainability continues to concern consumers, businesses and governments. In its Best Global Brands 2009 report, U.S.-based Intrabrand states: “Sustainability will become ingrained in the fabric of how companies do business; they will not be able to do without it.”
“For consumers, greenwashing is about trust and credibility,” says Kathryn A. Cooper, president of the Ontario-based Sustainability Learning Centre. “Consumers want to believe that companies are doing a credible job at being green, but they just don’t believe it.
|Sustainability Learning Centre president Kathryn A. Cooper.
“For companies, it is usually about marketing and sales being way ahead of the rest of the company,” Cooper adds. “Marketing and sales want to take advantage of the market growth in green products, but it takes time and expertise to really be authentically green. Also, companies often don’t know what “green” or “sustainable” is. It is not standardized, so it is easier to make claims without the risk of being taken to task on the matter.”
Greenwashing as a term is not new; it is believed to have been coined by New York-based biologist and environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay about the hotel industry’s practice of placing cards in each room promoting reuse of guest towels to “save the environment” yet failing to demonstrate any other environmental initiatives.
In October, Canadian magazine PROFIT reported, “The government’s recent crackdown on greenwashing – the practice of disingenuously marketing one’s products as green – is a good reminder that you shouldn’t market your products as environmentally friendly, if they are not.”
PROFIT referred to the Competition Bureau of Canada’s action against seven Canadian hot tub and spa retailers who had falsely claimed their spas were certified by the EnergyStar program. The sad consequence of such actions is that, every time an industry, or even just one company, gains notoriety – justified or not – as a greenwasher, the entire industry is “stained” and all sustainable activities appear even more questionable.
The sins of greenwashing
To measure greenwashing and help consumers and companies recognize and avoid it, Ottawa-based environmental marketing firm TerraChoice has created a Seven Sins of Greenwashing list and publishes a Greenwashing report.
For its 2009 Seven Sins of Greenwashing report, TerraChoice researchers recorded every product making an environmental claim at category-leading big-box retailers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. In the United States and Canada, 2,219 products making 4,996 green claims were recorded.
The report revealed that the number of “green” products increased by an average of 79 per cent per store (ranging from 40 per cent to 176 per cent) in stores that were visited in 2007 and 2008-09. It also found that greenwashing is still abundant, with more than 98 per cent of “green” products committing at least one of the sins. Of the 2,219 products claiming to be green in the United States and Canada, only 25, or less than two per cent, were found to be sin-free.
Bakeries do not lack areas in which they can be green. These include ingredients, packaging, recycling, waste management, cleaning products, heating and air conditioning, use of electricity and the effects of transportation. Scrutinizing the practices of suppliers, and even the charities you support, will help ensure that you are not enabling or supporting their non-green practices, or that you at least are aware of what their practices are.
“Your reputation and brand name are all you have – protect them,” Cooper says. “If you want to implement a greening strategy, take the time to green your product, your process and your supply chain. Rethink everything – reduce your energy, water, waste and input footprint. You will save money and be able to call your product ‘green.’
“The Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and Guelph Food Technology Centre have funding to provide food companies with a no-charge sustainability gap assessment. They also have some funding for sustainability consulting to help you authentically green your facility while increasing your profitability and expanding your markets.”
Not easy being green
One aspect that makes being green difficult for a consumer-facing business is that the customers who will pay the closest attention to green efforts are most likely also the most environmentally aware – and often better informed than anyone inside the business. In their view, recycling a few boxes does not make a green company. If you over-state or over-promote, such consumers are likely to take you to task.
Yet another reason to be cautious is that the entire lifecycle of a product is not necessarily in your control. For example, if a consumer discards a biodegradable bread bag in a regular plastic garbage bag and then throws that into the garbage bin, the biodegradable bag may never have a chance to biodegrade.
Knowing this, when European Breads Bakery in Vancouver introduced biodegradable bread bags in October 2008, its media release clearly stated that the move will “prevent approximately 200,000 plastic bags from potentially hitting the landfills each year.”
Similarly, when Silver Hills Bakery in Abbotsford, B.C., recently re-branded its breads and wrapped them in biodegradable bags by Oxobioplast Inc., it made practically no noise about the biodegradability of the bag, although the re-branding was big news. In a small font on the bag, Silver Hills notes: “When discarded in the presence of oxygen, light, heat and micro-organisms, this bag will ultimately oxo-biodegrade into the naturally occurring components.”
Frustrated by decades of unsubstantiated and confusing claims about eco this and green that, consumers are not going to start trusting green claims overnight. But this should not deter bakeries from striving to make their products and operations more sustainable. What the prevailing and seemingly permanent cynicism does mean is that being informed and completely transparent will work to your advantage.
The Seven Sins of Greenwashing – Source: www.sinsofgreenwashing.org
Sin of the Hidden Trade-off
A claim suggesting a product is ‘green’ based on a 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 papermaking process, such as greenhouse gas emissions, or chlorine use in bleaching, may be equally important.
Sin of No Proof
An environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification. Common examples include facial tissues or toilet tissue products that claim they contain various percentages of post-consumer recycled content without providing evidence.
Sin of Vagueness
A claim that is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer. ‘All-natural’ is an example. Arsenic, uranium, mercury, and formaldehyde are all naturally occurring, and poisonous. ‘All natural’ isn’t necessarily ‘green’.
Sin of WorshipPing False Labels
A product that, through either words or images, gives the impression of third-party endorsement where no such endorsement exists; fake labels, in other words.
Sin of Irrelevance
A claim that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products. “CFC-free” is a good example as it’s a frequent claim despite CFCs being banned by law.
Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
A claim that may be true within the product category, but that risks distracting the consumer from the greater environmental effects of the category as a whole. Examples: organic cigarettes and fuel-efficient sport-utility vehicles.
Sin of Fibbing
Environmental claims that are simply false. A common example is products falsely claiming to be Energy Star certified or registered.
See BakersJournal.com for tips on how to avoid the Seven Sins of Greenwashing, plus a list of other sustainability resources for businesses.
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