Time to flush out corporate greenwashing
It’s an established and cheap PR exercise that goes as far back as the 1950s, and as pressure to be ‘green’ from customers, employees and stakeholders increases, it’s no wonder greenwashing practices are becoming more sophisticated.
In the endeavour to convince audiences that they’re playing a strong environmentally-friendly game, many firms are focussing on the low hanging fruit that is alternative sustainable materials.
‘Alternative’ sustainable materials
Let’s think of all the things that have been labeled as ‘bad’ in the last couple of years. Plastic carrier bags, single use plastic bottles, plastic straws, packaging, labels and wrapping…
We’re not suggesting for one minute that unnecessary plastic packaging is a good thing, and we certainly do not want to see single-use items ending up in our oceans. However, the alternatives that are deemed ‘good’ are often just as bad – if not worse.
Paper straws. Fossil fuels power machinery and equipment used in the production of both plastic and paper straws. But paper products are more energy-intensive to produce, so the production of paper straws actually uses more resources and emits more greenhouse gases than the production of plastic ones. What’s more, most recycling facilities will not accept food contaminated paper products, and since paper absorbs liquid, this includes paper straws.
Glass bottles – Glass (like plastic) is a commodity that is easy to recycle. However, new glass is made from a specific type of sand that’s harvested from riverbeds and seabeds. Taking sand out of the natural environment disrupts the ecosystem, leaves shore lines open to flooding and erosion, and is being used up faster than the planet can produce it. What’s more, glass is the heaviest material to transport, which means it produces more emissions and costs more to move.
Paper bags – The production of paper bags uses four times as much energy as the production of plastic ones, not to mention water. In general, more greenhouse gases are emitted during the production of paper products than their plastic counterparts.
We could go on. The fact is, consumers are being convinced that alternatives to plastic are ‘better’ by brands not telling the full story.
Worryingly, The Independent recently published a report that revealed how supermarkets and food giants are ditching plastic packaging and swapping to materials that are even more damaging to the environment due to public pressure. Reason in itself for greenwashing to stop before it’s too late.
The big issue
Greenwashing, AKA pulling the wool over the public’s eyes, isn’t going to help the environment. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s simply shifting consumption from one area to another.
Essentially, carbon footprints will not be reduced for swapping out one material for another – the only answer is to reduce consumption overall. Consumers must curb their purchasing of fast fashion, overly packaged items, convenience products and cheap, throw away gadgets and gimmicks – but this is something brands DO NOT want to happen.
Furthermore, with the plastic tax looming, a levy that’s set to be placed on all plastic packaging not containing at least 30% of recycled material from 2022, brands are only going to be looking for ‘alternative’ materials to package their products – which has the potential to be disastrous for the planet and the plastic recycling industry.
Is plastic bad or not?
Plastic is a commodity. It is relatively easy and low impact to recycle, and can be used again and again. And with scientific developments in additives, like BrightFusion, it can retain its integrity and quality to keep on giving.
Plastic is versatile, light, can keep food fresher for longer, is used in innovations across all industries and can even be 3D printed. It’s a major player in our future and it’s not going anywhere. And it doesn’t need to. What needs to happen is a change in mindset so individuals, brands, organisations and governments understand it for the precious commodity it is – and not a throw away material that’s to be buried, burnt or shipped overseas.
Who are the culprits?
Sadly, there are too many brands who are accused of corporate greenwashing to mention, but here are a few of our favourite exposés….
Quorn Foods claimed its Thai Wonder Grains lunch pot was a stp in the right direction in addressing climate change. The brand’s single use plastic containers were later exposed as being only 80% recyclable.
H&M’s introduction of a Conscious range in 2018 commenced their new sustainable model, including a clothes recycling programme. However, Conscious only accounts for 5% of the fast fashion brand’s total output.
Nestle’s Eco Shape bottle for its Pure Life Natural claimed to have used 30% less plastic without saying or providing any evidence to say what it was ‘less’ than.
Walmart was outed in 2017 for selling plastic products, misleadingly labeled as “biodegradable” and “compostable.”
So what is the answer ?
Consumers are increasingly searching out brands with genuine sustainable practices. And those brands have a responsibility to be transparent with their followers. 83% of consumers believe it is ‘important’ or ‘extremely important’ for companies to design reusable or recyclable products, and 72% of people now purchase more eco-friendly products now than they did five years ago.
Companies need to invest in green practises and campaigns that take in the overall picture. Change their mindset and adopt socially responsible practises from the inside out. Live and breathe environmentally friendly processes – not just run green PR initiatives. And be held fully and legally accountable for misleading claims and their ultimate impact on the environment.