Speaking in Shades of Green - Image Magazine

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Speaking in Shades of Green

Speaking in Shades of Green

Sustainability is a hot topic right now. Brands and companies are well aware of the benefits of promoting green products, processes, services or culture. Consumers demand environmental responsibility from goods and service providers, and studies show that sustainability influences buying decisions.

It’s no surprise, then, that businesses want to do everything they can to show just how green they are to attract their target market.

Sustainability is a powerful marketing tool. Companies use it to add value to their brands, gain an advantage over their competitors or command a premium price. Well, and good when what is promoted is true. When it’s not, it is greenwashing.

The term greenwashing was coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld, who, on a trip to Fiji, observed hotel signs asking guests to reuse towels as part of their environmental strategy. Noticing that the hotel employed no other sustainable initiatives (in fact, the opposite), he determined that this request had nothing to do with environmental concern; instead, it was a cost-saving measure purely of benefit to the hotel.

Greenwashing has increased significantly since then as sustainability has become an essential and influential issue.

What exactly is greenwashing?

Greenwashing is when a brand or company gives the impression that their product, processes or services have environmental benefits when they do not, or not to the degree they are promoted. The only purpose of greenwashing is to serve a brand or company’s self-interest in the name of profit.

Greenwashing can be direct or implied, intentional or unintentional. Regardless, the practice is extremely damaging as it confuses and misleads consumers, undermining their trust in sustainability claims as a whole.

What does greenwashing look like?

Greenwashing comes in many forms. Claims can be unsubstantiated, exaggerated or selective, or what is promoted can have a wholly ineffective or meaningless impact on environmental improvement. Wording and imagery can also imply that a product or service is eco-friendly regardless of its actual credentials. Words like eco, natural, and bio, for example, and images of greenery and nature can make people think the product serves sustainability without offering any evidential information.

How can you avoid the greenwashing trap?

Don’t be fooled by words and imagery. Look for information where the benefits are clearly communicated and specific. There should be transparency around processes, ingredients and any green claims.

A big one for our industry is the promotion of PVC-free films as green. The benefits of a PVC- free film can only be determined if you know the product’s attributes. Without knowing more, like the material’s composition, all you really know is that it doesn’t contain the same ingredients as PVC. That doesn’t necessarily mean its eco-friendly, just a different composition. “PVC- Free” also doesn’t give any indication about how long it takes to break down nor does it reflect how the product can be disposed of.

Assessing the environmental impact of a product requires the evaluation of more than just a singular attribute. One aspect of a product may be green but it may not have any other environmental benefits, in fact overall it may be worse. A more accurate way to assess the sustainability of a product, is to look at it from cradle to grave. This is known as Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). With greenwashing, offenders tend to focus or over emphasize a single attribute as a way of distracting from areas where the product may fall short or even cause environmental damage. Also, the attribute promoted may be ineffective, e.g., recyclable packaging when the product itself causes harm.

Symbols or labelling can also be misleading. For example, the use of the recycling symbol. This just indicates that the product has the potential to be recycled because of its composition. It doesn’t mean that it will be. Recycling infrastructure varies between countries, even cities. If there is no method for collection or processing in your area, the promotion of this benefit is completely redundant. It is not only greenwashing, but incredibly irresponsible for companies to promote products as recyclable when there is no way the customer can do so in their market.

When using green products in your business ensure you have access to clear and specific information on the environmental benefits and how the product contributes to sustainability. Are the promoted benefits meaningful and impactful? What evidence or certifications are available? How can the product be disposed of? Not only will this ensure you don’t fall victim to greenwashing but will safeguard you from passing misinformation on to your clients. There are many responsible companies out there providing true green solutions that are advantageous not only to the environment but to your business.

Written by Denise Kirby

Denise Kirby, has over 25 years experience in the sign industry as a supplier of self adhesive products. Initially starting out in a family business as a distributor of Mactac products to sign and print companies, Denise has worked for Mactac Europe in a business development and marketing roles across Australia and New Zealand, as well as Avery Dennison, when they
bought Mactac.

Denise is highly passionate about the industry and enjoys writing about different applications and opportunities with the hope of inspiring people to explore new creative and functional opportunities with film.

Photo Credit: Volodymyr Hryshchenko (Unsplash)

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