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Greenwashing versus actual change

This is an amalgamation of various emails that have been sent in by Tuffy, Nedbank, Woolworths and Caturra Coffee. – mol-d

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 ‘greenwash’ 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’, which 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. There is no regulation in South Africa to combat these claims and we firmly believe that a regulatory body is needed to monitor 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.”

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. He 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.

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.

Companies readily provide details of their green activities and initiatives, which I feel is important as it contributes to an overall ‘green consciousness’. However, it is sometimes difficult (if possible at all) to differentiate between those companies that use ‘greening’ and eco-friendliness as a promotional tool and those that are committed to real change… Below are some examples of South African companies that promote sustainablilty and eco-friendliness… What do you think?

1) Nedbank

Nedbank Capital has launched South Africa’s first Green Index which serves as a benchmark for environmentally -conscious investors. The Index has the potential to become the industry standard in measuring performance of companies with environmentally sustainable business practices. Nedbank’s commitment to environmental preservation is illustrated through this initiative which tracks the performance of companies selected on environmental criteria primarily including carbon and climate change risks and opportunities. The Nedbank Green Index is a strategic fit with Nedbank’s desire to be a leader in the sustainability space and a key contributor to the Green Economy. It will allow clients who share Nedbank’s aspirations in the Green space to demonstrate this in their investments. The index is rules-based with a clear, transparent methodology based on objective and independent data. The index will be verified by an independent calculation agent on an ongoing basis with daily values published on data service providers such as I-net, Bloomberg and Reuters.

To ensure the objectivity of Nedbank’s Green Index, the Index is built on the Carbon Disclosure Project (“CDP”) database and the UN-register of Clean Development Mechanism (“CDM”) projects in South Africa. The CDP is an independent not-for-profit organisation, based in the United Kingdom, which holds the largest database of corporate climate change commitment and action in the world. The CDP has 551 institutional investors as signatories representing over $71 trillion in assets under management. CDM projects based in South Africa are also incorporated into the rules-based methodology as these represent demonstrable commitments from companies to reducing their carbon impact and growing the Green Economy.

The premise for the Index is that companies who are better positioned for a changing environment are better suited to sustain their future performance and should, over the long-run, outperform their peers. Back-testing of the Index has shown that the Index can outperform the market, as it has done for the past three years – by more than 20%. While the performance of the Nedbank Green Index in relation to the market may vary in the future, what this demonstrates is that investing based on environmental criteria does not have to cost investors in performance. In a single stroke, investors can confidently invest for their own futures and that of our planet. The Index will provide a platform for companies to show off their green credentials and hopefully the Index will encourage other companies to implement more environmentally-sustainable business practices.

2) Woolworths

Woolworths reduces municipal water consumption by 27 000 kilolitres a year. In another innovation, Woolworths has tapped into an underground water supply to meet some of its daily water needs. Woolworths installed a water treatment system that uses water under their Cape Town Head Office building to flush toilets, run the building’s car wash, the fountain outside the building and the cooling towers for the air conditioning units. This will save the Cape Town municipality an estimated 27 375 000 litres of water a year or 75 000 litres of municipal water a day conserved by Woolworths. In addition, the retailers water bill will be reduced.

The underground water runs about 20 metres under Woolworths Head Office building in the centre of Cape Town. This water flows into the City of Cape Town’s storm water system, and is eventually discharges into the sea. After much enquiry, the source of the underground stream is still somewhat of a mystery. Alex Kuzma, Head of Engineering Services at Woolworths says, “We started investigating this project three years ago. After consulting with the City of Cape Town, and a range of experts, we realised we could harvest the underground water, treat it and use it instead of municipal water. Everyone wins: Woolworths, the City of Cape Town, residents, and importantly, the environment. This is part of our Good Business Journey, which helps to conserve natural resources and conduct business as responsibly as we can. The conservation and management of water is a major focus area of our Good Business Journey programme, as it should be in a country where water is a scarce resource.”

3) Caturra Coffee Company

South Africa’s local coffee market, held at the forefront of ethical sourcing and sustainability, is upping the ante on “green” packaging with the launch of a joint venture between Laskas CC and NatureFlexä Films. Laskas CC’s first client, Caturra Coffee, will introduce the first range of compostable material under the name African Renaissance Coffee® – a new-to-market premium 100% indigenous African origin espresso beans and ground coffee export brand.

“Consumables claim to be green, biodegradable and sustainable, but the Achilles’ heel is usually the packaging,” says Klaus Becker, MD for Caturra Coffee. With Caturra Coffee’s African Renaissance Coffee® and Lasks’ new NatureFlexä, the South African consumer will be able to enjoy premium indigenous African coffee blend products including beans from Ethiopia and Kenya while simultaneously relishing in the knowledge that once the empty pouch has been added to the backyard compost heap, the decomposition process begins almost immediately,” he adds.

NatureFlexä Films can be applied to a broad cross-section of packaging needs ranging from fresh fruit and vegetable packaging, bag making, sugar and chocolate confectionary wrapping to hygiene product packaging, bakery packaging, dried foods packaging, home and personal care packaging, lamination, lidding and reamwrap. The film can appear in either transparent, coloured, white or metallised colouring; is heat sealable for use on horizontal or vertical packaging machines; is static free; has a high heat-resistance, and enjoys a range of barrier properties that compete favourably with conventional OPP, PA and PET films.

“Most packaging materials are technically recyclable,” says Becker, “but how much of it is actually being recycled on a day-to-day basis?” Laskas’ NatureFlexä Films provides an offering that will short circuit the municipal refuse collection and separation process or the need to incinerate, enabling South Africans to take responsibility from beginning to end by disposing of used packaging in their garden compost bins. The films are both biodegradable and home compostable since the primary raw material, wood pulp, is used to produce cellulose acetate, and is sourced from managed forests. Although biodegradability aids the recycling process, plastics, tins, glass and packaging are often recycled away from the home by local municipal authorities or on tender.  Home compostability, on the other hand, proclaims its name – allowing packaging to be added directly to home compost with newspaper, wood, organic matter, etc. Compostable packaging therefore becomes the consumer’s ally, helping to fertilise garden foliage and keeps the earthworms happy! “Our green credentials have an exponential knock-on effect,” says Becker.

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4 Responses to Greenwashing versus actual change

  1. Ula August 26, 2011 at 8:26 am #

    How sad that there is no regulation to combat false claims by those who prey on the general ignorance of the South African society concerning what is truly “green”! Thumbs up to the companies who are serious about saving our environment. Thanks for an informative article.

  2. Eve August 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    Thanks for posting such an informative article, it is up to us as consumer to educate ourselves about which companies are harming the environment. We need to use our collective voice to call for accountability.

  3. mol-d September 1, 2011 at 10:01 am #

    and it is not only companies… here is an interesting article on the potential for greenwashing in durban before cop 17:

    http://www.zcommunications.org/dirty-durban-s-manual-for-climate-greenwashing-by-patrick-bond

  4. Texas March 3, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Hey there, You have done an excellent job. I will definitely digg it and for my part recommend to my friends. I am confident they will be benefited from this website.

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