While at dinner with a friend the other day, we talked briefly about the idea of green washing and green marketing. (Only a few times does dinner get to be about work) He made a statement that stuck with me; businesses are only spending money on sustainability to sell more products because consumers are more aware now, there is no genuine interest in the topic, it is all green washing. Question is: why is this `green washing´ working so well?
I heard about green washing for the first time at a lecture in one of my courses for my masters programme. Businesses all claim to be environmentally superior to their counterparts to sell more products and make more profit, when actually there is no evidence that these products are actually significantly superior. Despite being more expensive, BIO products have acquired a huge market share in Europe where the purchasing power and education level is higher. How then do we check if a company´s claim to environmental superiority is valid and this is not just a scheme to sell the same products in different packaging at a higher price? How do I know if to buy a brand of chocolate and not the other one knowing that they probably sourced the core ingredients from the same suppliers.
The idea of standards and certifications have been made to make those grey areas clearer. The fact is businesses may continue to green wash and claim what they actually are not to sell more, but the onus is on the buyer to verify what is being bought. Here is an impoortant questions to ask.
Certification or Green statement?
Is the product being purchased actually certified? The process of getting certified does cost money and requires external consultants to verify a company´s processes and products. Test are done, suppply chains are verified, steps are checked and finally the certification is granted. Sometimes it takes months and even years for a product to get certified and many companies are not ready to make such finantial and time consuming investment. A good example is the UTZ certification which is the largest program for sustainable farming of coffee and cocoa in the world.
Another good example is the Fairtrade, whose goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions for their products and promote sustainable farming. Simply because it is important to know that the cocoa used for your favorite chocolate is not produced through child labour and other unfavourable human conditions.
On the other hand, there are voluntary statements which organisations make without any proof or check. For example, our products are made from 60% recycled raw material. Who checked? Who confirmed? Where are the reports? How was this concluded on? Was there a third party unbiased evaluation? The vaguessness of it all is what makes it untrustworthy.
So before you are spending extra cash on that next sustainable product, be sure it is actually certified and not just some vague abstract expression to make you pay a premium for what is not actually premium. If you are curious about a label and what process they take in certifying a product, you can visit www.ecolabelindex.com as they are currently tracking almost 465 labels across the world. These labels range from food to energy, packaging to household materials, and even buildings.
Check before you pay!