Greenwashing?

05/02/2021

Greenwashing is more than losing credibility and lack of integrity… it’s about losing precious time!

If you, like me, believe the science and those who have spent their lives building a deep understanding of the sustainability crises we face, you’ll agree that modern civilisation has almost no time left to utterly transform our socio-economic systems if we are to prevent a catastrophe that goes well beyond the climate issue on its own. Every day we allow ourselves to be distracted by single issues such as carbon emissions, or recycling or whatever floats (or sinks) your boat, the harder it gets to solve these wicked, intertwined issues. That’s why Greenwashing is far worse than just being dishonest in your marketing in order to make some extra cash from eco-conscious consumers. It actually distracts us from the reality of the situation we are in and makes it more likely that the disasters we are facing will end up coming to pass. 

One of the key tenets of the Eco-aware Consumer Agenda is that consumers should be empowered, assisted and encouraged to make sustainable purchasing choices.

For the market for ‘green’ or environmentally-friendly products and services to function properly, business needs to ensure that environmental claims are clear, accurate and reliable. Only in these circumstances will consumers be able to make a truly informed choice and get what they think they are paying for. And only then will business be able to fully embrace the many opportunities for innovation that are needed to save the future from our short sightedness and downright stupidity.

Misleading and unsubstantiated environmental claims are increasing. A report from the European Commission ,“Consumer market study on environmental claims for non-food products” found that in 42% of cases, the national control authorities found that the statements printed on packaging were false, misleading or potentially misleading for consumers, therefore to be considered as an unfair practice under European Union law. 

These false claims undermine consumers’ ability to contribute to green business by means of their purchasing choices, and ultimately do not provide what consumers are actually paying good money for. Some claims focus on just carbon, or recycling because they think that’s the biggest problem. This is a simplistic approach which, even if well intentioned, is as dangerous as it is misleading. 

Let’s consider an example that most of us are familiar with. The information that consumers can find on a bottle of detergent will often say that this is a “Recyclable Product.”

There is no doubt that it is a correct statement. An HDPE bottle made with virgin polymer is recyclable, but it is misleading, if also combined with acronyms or drawings that make you imagine that nature and care of the ecosystem are at the heart of the business model. 

In fact, in order to respect the scientific rules which define Sustainability and the Circular Economy, the bottle must be made of recycled plastic (or a truly biodegradable material) and, on the label, there must be a sentence similar to “bottle made with recycled material that can be recycled again after multiple re-uses”. And the facilities to recycle it must actually exist. There are also issues with the material that the bottle is made from, and there is also a social side to the equation which must be considered. We are of the opinion that this social aspect to sustainability is actually the most important of the lot, because in the end, people will do whatever they need to do to survive. And that includes eating the last fish, draining the aquifer, cutting down the forest, or blaming “those other people” for the problem. An we know where that particular tactic can lead to all too well.

But with only 11% of recycled materials globally actually recycled anyway, which isn't always the Company's fault or responsibility, is this just an excuse for greenwashing? We think so.

Our 20+years of experience as sustainability professionals has led Aurora Sustainability Group (don’t be misled by our online imitators), an award winning Scottish consultancy firm based in Moray, to develop an online marketplace which will use the most highly developed, comprehensive sustainability assessment tool available and which is designed to act as a guide to help companies identify where they stand in relation to being truly sustainable. It also provides guidance on how to close the gap to get to where they want to be. The marketplace will also act as a guide for consumers who want more clarity about who they are buying from.

There’s little doubt that both Companies and consumers are keen on eco-friendly products and Green Grow Club marketplace has been developed to help both ends of the transaction get what they want. Our online marketplace has a scientifically robust set of criteria for producers to judge their performance by, and with a robust framework behind it to help them improve their overall environmental performance, and show how they are doing in a transparent way. And because of that, we are also the only online marketplace where consumers can have a clear picture of what the full impact of their choices are. 

We go way beyond just counting carbon, because that’s what sustainability requires. Just counting carbon alone is totally misunderstanding the complexity of the issue and is misleading to people who want to do the right thing. Consumers and producers alike.

We have 4 (non-scientific) initial criteria that our vendors must comply with to even get on the system. After that, we invite them to begin the journey to being truly sustainable using this scientific framework that has been developed to do that exact thing. And as they move along that path, they can help others to do the same by sharing their experience, and maybe even finding cooperative opportunities to develop solutions. We’ve found that Circular Economy business models nearly always need cross-sectoral cooperation. We support that journey with all the experience we have behind us.

 No greenwashing. No simplistic solutions focussed on single issues. A full spectrum, robust, tried and tested sustainable business framework that has been developed for this very job.

Nothing else will do. There’s no time left for “single-issue mentality”.

Iain Findlay (Aurora Sustainability Group CEO)

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