Many product manufacturers are guilty of ‘greenwashing’ with their claims of green, eco-friendly or organic; misleading consumers into believing they are purchasing green products, when in fact they are buying into marketing claims.
This is according to Rory Murray, Marketing Director of Tuffy Brands, who says that the direct dictionary definition of Green•wash (grēn’wŏsh’, -wôsh’) is the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
According to TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, in 2009, 98% of all ‘green’ claims made by companies and brands were guilty of one or more of the ‘seven sins of green washing’. Murray explains that the seven sins of greenwashing include; hidden trade-offs, no proof, vagueness, false labels, irrelevance, lesser of two evils, and fibbing.
“Greenwashing is not a new concept, as consumers have been mislead about the environmental benefits of products and services for years, there is an ever increasing list of dubious marketing practices,” he says. “Green is no longer just a colour but has become a movement to make money.”
“Although we don’t have similar concrete figures in South Africa, we know that greenwashing is a reality in SA and majority of companies are guilty of deceptive greenwashing claims.”
He continues, “There is no regulation in South Africa to combat these claims and we firmly believe that a regulatory body is needed to monitor and combat claims. Currently the only association taking strides to assist with this is the Advertising Standards Authority and even then the resultant impact is not entirely useful.”
In addition, we believe that something needs to be done to police greenwashing in South Africa. He adds: “Government needs to get on top of standardising and certification processes, business chambers need to set higher standards and the advertising industry should police its members.”
He says that some of South Africa’s brands are entirely guilty of greenwashing with their use of vague claims such as ‘organic’ when their products may contain highly suspicious and harmful chemicals. Other claims include; ‘environmentally friendly’ and even ‘eco-safe’ when, he says, they aren’t. Murray adds that consumers should demand the truth and the whole truth, as false claims amount to fraud.
Murray points out that the most common claim in South Africa sits right within the ‘vagueness sin’ and this is the Mobius loop, the recycling symbol that is intended to mean that the product is made from recycled material.
He explains, “This is the nifty little recycling symbol found on almost all packaging but does not have a qualifying statement which makes it completely misleading to the consumer. Does it mean the whole product, or that package or both and is it 100% recycled material or less and is it post-consumer waste or pre-consumer waste? Because there is a big difference.”
Consumers need to be warned he says, against purchasing products that have these symbols on them. Check the content and how it was recycled, only when a product is recycled from a high content of post-consumer waste does it have any claim to be green as it actually has an impact on the environment.
“Unfortunately there is no label that exists for this type of information, it seems that it is the consumers responsibility to check the wording on products carefully and make an educated decision themselves based on limited information,” he says.
He says that the only way to tell if a product has a genuine green claim is to audit the entire supply line and not just the end product. In terms of recycled content it is important to analyse the raw material input to see what environmental impact the product actually has and ultimately what they are able to claim.
“We recently commissioned an independent audit by SGS, the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and Certification Company to legitimise that we mean what we say that our products are 100% recycled.”
“We are the only South African refuse bag manufacturer to be fully certified 100% recycled and we are hoping that this will be used to set an industry standard and other South African companies will follow suit,” he adds.
How to spot greenwashing:
1. Read between the labels – check the wording on packaging carefully. In South Africa the green movement is not yet regulated and therefore there are no certification or green seals for products so manufacturers can do pretty much whatever they want. If a product says natural and contains arsenic it doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe.
2. Use common sense – some companies make green claims when you blatantly know that their products are destroying the environment you need to exercise your right to choose.
3. Don’t be fooled and be suspicious – don’t trust anything unless you have verified them yourself.
4. Look out for buzz words – organic, sustainable development, clean, eco-friendly etc.
Murray concludes, “It’s not all bad news though, most greenwash is due to ignorance or sloppiness rather than malicious intent, and businesses and advertising agencies can take simple steps to prevent greenwash slipping through. As a consumer, you too can spot the worst greenwash symptoms and make up your own mind.”