Nowadays we are all litteraly invaded, in all media, by words, colors, statement, declaration of intents. The great race for sustainability has taken off and it does not seems to halt, looking straight at the 2030 Sustainabile Development Goals. Only eight years are left: comparatively few, but who gets off to a good start is half the battle! The big question is: have all indeed started off on the right foot? Or it is only greenwashing?
Let us fix a basic concept: it is not always easy to spot out Greenwashing. However, if we know how to go about it can be uncovered it.
To facilitate stakeholders and consumers, a recent researh (source: TerraChoice) identified the “7 capital sins” ofgreenwashing: omitted information, lack of evidence, vagueness, adoption of fake labels, irrelevance, lesser evil and straight lie.
Let us analyze them one by one.
The “sin” of omitted information is the most common. Apparently less serious, it is actually among the most misleading. It appears as less serious as it is not a fake declaration, but just an omission of information which, in any case, might affect the product impact on the environment. The result? There is not any violation, but the information on the product supply chain are scarce or completely absent. How can we be sure that the company is providing a truthful declaration? We cannot. However, we can start wondering whether the absence of some data might be an indication that something is being hidden, particularly if related to the supply chain (from raw materials to packaging).
The lack of evidence might be easier to be uncovered. The company simply declares that its product is sustainable, without providing any evidence, let alone any third party certification. More often than not such practice is utilized by some among the best known companies, taking advantage of their wide popularity and consolidated credibility.
Vagueness is also a quite common misleading trait. To make a product sustainable it is not sufficient to declare the presence of not better identified “natural ingredients” or a production “respectful of the environment” production. Remaining vague, not providing any relevant detail it is infact a clearly defined strategy adopted by some. At first sight many consumers will fall into such trap, without any further verification.
When dealing with adoption of fake labels, the fraud starts to be more devious. We see a mushrooming of labels, symbols, certifications, approvals of not better identified bodies, sometime not existent or created ad hoc. A massive usage of the color green, on packaging or in ads, it is tipycally a part to such practice.
We have irrelevance when a company provides information that do not have any direct relation with the sustainability of the product. To give an example: the declaration “without propane” on a spray can does not add any value to the sustainability of the product as such gas has been banned since many years. Though, it cannot be given for granted that all consumerse are aware of it.
We are in the presence of a lesser evil when, for instance, a guarantee is provided that a new product is less polluting than the traditional one. Though the information might be correct, the product still does actually pollute. At present, such practice can be related to the electric vehicles, at least till a way will be found to fuel them only with solar or wind power.
Straight lie is definitely the most dishonest and less common greenwashing practice. Provide totally fake communication is prosecutable by law. Nevertheless, some companies are still indulging in such practice as it might not always be very easy to uncover and prove a manufacturer false declaration.
So far, the “sins” list.
Now, which is the first element of caution that the consumer should adopt?
To read and listen always with great attention: any environment slogan should be clear and accurate. Simply starting questioning the communication on such two basic requirements – clarity and accuracy – will make the life of any company engaged in greenwashing more complex.
While the norms and regulations against such unfair practices are getting more and more stringent, it is advisable for the company desiderous to be set apart from the others to always engage with well known and impartial third party organizations: environent certification labels do not lie.