Marketers and salespeople know that green products sell, that is why we are inundated with green claims for products. The problem comes when we have to decide what claims are real and meaningful and, what is simply “greenwash”.
All claims should be scientifically sound and when they are, they can give real consumer choice and be a powerful catalyst for sustainability reducing demand on raw materials and driving up recycling rates.
False or misleading claims can confuse the consumer, cause overload of information build distrust and turn people away from making the correct choices. Greenwashing is now a major problem and what I want to do here is to provide some pointers to give clarity to the situation.
Firstly, there is no such thing as a really ‘green’ product: everything we buy or use has had some adverse effect upon the environment, because it has to be extracted, grown, made, transported etc. in some way, environmentally better products are not green, but greener and using them will reduce the impact upon the environment.
When it comes to Greenwash what are the signs to look out for?
Vague names and terms, like “green” and “environmentally friendly”, terms we see every day but they have no real meaning in isolation. When these terms are used they must be backed up with clear explanations and scientific facts such as, emits less than 131 g CO2 / km.
Eco-labels should be accredited by independent bodies or scientific facts, they should also cover the whole lifecycle of the product from extraction of raw materials to final disposal, cradle to grave, including packaging, transport and any ancillary items that are essential to using the product. Labels that are not backed by independent review by a trusted body are merely badges to be bought.
Claiming to have no Substances of Very High Concern means nothing if all similar products have to meet the same legal requirements.
Emphasizing the Good to Hide the Bad
Manufacturers who make claims about a single environmental benefit, whilst knowing full well that a product has an overall detrimental effect on the environment is just as bad as lying about the product. As I have said above all claims should cover the full life cycle of a product from cradle to grave or better still from cradle to cradle in the case of re-manufactured or recycled products.
Manufacturers who make claims but cannot back them up with scientific evidence or cannot provide third-party certification of their claims, are of no use, all claims should be backed up by evidence that is freely made available.
Claiming to be the Lesser of Two Evils
Comparing a product with one other but not comparing with a better product that is freely available. All comparisons should made against all similar products that are available to do the same job.
Economy with the Truth
Telling only part of the story or just out and out, lying, there are companies that will still do this, thankfully they are few and far between. Hopefully by looking out for these signs, we all as consumers can become better at spotting “Greenwash” and force all companies who make green claims to be playing on an even playing field.
Ray Khan, Director of Quality and Environmental Standards