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Government to lead fight against greenwash

New kitemarks will be used to clamp down on bogus ‘green’ claims made by firms and businesses

The UK Government is continuing with plans to pin down definitions used by the businesses and organisations when describing green activities to prevent misleading claims. The move is in response to rising concern over what consumers and campaigners see as ‘greenwash’.  Claims about CO2 emissions such as carbon ‘neutral’, ‘zero’ or ‘negative’ are particularly open to challenge, as are absolute claims such as ‘100% recycled’ or ‘wholly sustainable’.  The Advertising Standards Authority has already taken a lead in this area and last summer ASA Chairman, Lord Smith said “Companies should be aware of the rise in consumer awareness of environmental and ethical issues alongside confusion and scepticism. The ASA does not want to discourage companies from communicating their initiatives but to help them to do so in a credible and responsible way” adding “there is still a wider need for consistent benchmarks and clear guidance on these issues.  We will play our part by working with experts to ensure the ASA continues to evaluate claims effectively and fairly”. The ASA has already censured several high-profile companies including Scottish & Southern Energy, British Gas, Suzuki, Shell, Ryanair and Toyota for greenwash – where companies are found to have misled consumers on their environmental practices as a business or of the particular benefits of a product or service. In 2007 the ASA received 561 complaints about environmental claims in 410 adverts, compared with just 117 complaints about 83 adverts the year before – a more than fourfold increase and a complaint against the oil giant Shell was upheld by the advertising watchdog last year over a press advert that showed refinery chimneys emitting flowers – the Anglo-Dutch energy giant was found to have misled the public about the green credentials of a vastly polluting oil project in Canada, in an attempt to assure consumers of its good environmental record. A report released by UK sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, found that the current and growing mass of environmental claims and ecolabels has confused many consumers and created uncertainty about which claims to trust and how best to make environmentally friendly purchases.

Now the Government has unveiled two new initiatives to reassure consumers that when they buy green, they get green. Minister for Energy and Climate Change Joan Ruddock said: “Information for consumers needs to be crystal clear and people need to have confidence that their money is put to good use. The first initiative is a kitemark for carbon offsetting schemes, which have in the past come under fire for offering wildly varying levels of service, with some promising to offset emissions by buying up carbon credits from globally recognised schemes while others have been rather more vague about how the money will be spent. Offsetting companies using the quality mark on their products will need to have registered with the government scheme and will have demonstrated that their projects are compliant with Kyoto standards to offer genuine, additional, measurable carbon savings, thus bringing consistency and transparency to the market place. The second is the launch of a consultation paper looking at the definition of carbon neutrality.

The music industry is way ahead of the game here already has two credible certification schemes in place. The Greener Festival Award scheme and Yourope’s Green n Clean award cover music festivals and events whilst the newly launched Julie’s Bicycle IG mark will initially cover CD packaging but will be extended into a number of important sectors in the music industry including venues and touring. Added to this the new BS8901 British Standard for sustainable event management will hopefully become a new benchmark for reducing the impact of events on the environment.

www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/may/01/corporatesocialresponsibility.ethicalliving

www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/shell-rebuked-for-greenwash-over-ad-for-polluting-oil-project-892863.html

Communications firm Futerra’s “Greenwash guide” – 10 signs of Greenwash

These are the things to look out for on advertising and packaging that can indicate when a company is trying to use greenwash to sell its product or service, according to Futerra’s Greenwash guide..

  1. Fluffy language – words or terms with no clear meaning, e.g. “ecofriendly”.
  2. Green products v dirty company – such as efficient light bulbs made in a factory which pollutes rivers.
  3. Suggestive pictures – green images that indicate an (unjustified) green impact eg flowers blooming from exhaust pipes.
  4. Irrelevant claims – emphasising one tiny green attribute when everything else is “ungreen”.
  5. Best in a bad class? – declaring you are slightly greener than the rest, even if the rest are pretty terrible.
  6. When it’s just not credible – “ecofriendly” cigarettes anyone? “Greening” a dangerous product doesn’t make it safe.
  7. Gobbledygook – jargon and information that only a scientist could check or understand.
  8. Imaginary friends – a “label” that looks like third party endorsement … except it is made up by the company itself.
  9. No proof – It could be right, but where’s the evidence?
  10. Outright lying!

See Advertising regulators see red over green claims that go beyond little white lies” in the Times, February 3rd 2009