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The war on plastics, coupled with the focus on climate change and environmental preservation, has shifted consumer and legislative demand. Unsurprisingly, this has led to an increased proportion of businesses widely promoting their ethical and sustainable practices.

Many of these initiatives were previously unknown to consumers, if they had taken place at all, leading to a cynical view being applied to organisational claims. In truth, hidden behind these ethically and environmentally friendly messages, is an insidious marketing strategy - ultimately leading to accusations of greenwashing.

In this article we explore what greenwashing means, popular marketing tactics and how businesses can avoid falling into the same trap.


What is greenwashing?

Originally coined in the 1980’s by an environmentalist, the term ‘greenwashing’ is experiencing a resurgence. Greenwashing is used to describe businesses who overstate their sustainable practices or ethical and environmental benefits.

Cambridge Dictionary determines greenwashing as strategies and messaging actively designed: “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”.

From packaging, to clothing, the meat industry and waste management – greenwashing occurs, in some form, in every market sector.


What is the problem with greenwashing?

Greenwashing plays on our desires as individuals to live consciously and mindfully, without providing the products and services that truly meet these requirements.

It prevents consumers from making informed decisions about their consumption. The arena of ethical and sustainable products is already difficult to navigate, without the smoke and mirrors of products being deceptively marketed as ‘green’. 

The word ‘sustainability’ is often misunderstood. It means to avoid the depletion of natural resources – and, to Vanden, it encompasses the environmental, social and economic elements of the supply chain and entire manufacturing process.

Greenwashing also presents issues within sustainable supply chains. It creates a challenge for businesses who choose to work with suppliers and partners that are aligned with their mission and values.


Greenwashing and plastic recycling

In the current climate, greenwashing and plastics, or plastic recycling, are synonymous.

Individuals are either misinformed or unaware of the recyclability of plastic materials. It’s clear that many possess little knowledge about the storage and handling of material – which is vital for ensuring polymers can re-enter the supply chain.

While other areas of their operations are ethical, sustainable or environmentally friendly, they’re unknowingly contributing to sending recyclable material to landfill.

Another problem that plastic manufacturing firms face, is entrusting their plastic scrap to some waste managers, who in turn, do not deal with it responsibly.

Often this means sending it to landfill. Although, recent examples have seen waste management firms breaching waste transportation laws, with waste being mislabelled and sent to countries where, if labelled correctly, it wouldn’t be accepted.


How to spot greenwashing

We must become accountable for being informed as both consumers and businesses. In this case, ignorance isn’t at all bliss.

We must become better at seeing through clever marketing tactics and sales pitches that make us victims to greenwashing, like the ones below.

Packaging and advertising campaigns that use imagery to reinforce messages that this product, or brand are environmentally friendly, ethical or sustainable. Pictures of nature, trees and leaves are intrinsically linked to products marketed as ‘green’.

These visuals are then compounded with messages and copy.

One example of this is one of the ‘big four’ supermarkets using images of tractors and trees with the names of fictitious farms on their packaging of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. This misled consumers, creating a wholesome image in the buyers’ mind that these items had come from UK farms, when they were in fact, imported.

The following phrases are just some of the buzzwords that are further clouding the issue of greenwashing and sustainability, duping individuals into buying items or committing to services: ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’, ‘fresh’ and ‘conscious’.

All claims and brand messages must be supported by evidence.


How to avoid greenwashing

Greenwashing can harm a business and tarnish a brand. It’s a practice that can damage credibility, impact profits and cause social or environmental harm.

Of course, it is possible for businesses to promote their ethical and ecological effort without being guilty of greenwashing. The claims you make in brand messaging and marketing campaigns must be substantiated, backed-up by proof and not in any way misleading.

Everyone in the business should have a clear understanding of your efforts, especially those that are in customer-facing roles, or involved in marketing.

Gaining certification or accreditation from reputable authorities and organisations underpin your sustainable or ethical claims, helping others to trust your brand.


How to identify a brand that is committed to be responsible, sustainable and trustworthy

When it comes to both a consumer or a business looking to work with brands that are aligned with a sustainable supply chain, you can take guidance from the following elements.

The transparency of a business speaks volumes. If a business is willing to converse and make a large volume of data available, this provides an indication of their brand values.

Data doesn't lie. An organisation may be marketing one element of their production, or inventory as ethical, green or sustainable or recycled, but what about other areas of their operation? Rather than rely on their word, search for evidence, or request information and data that reflect a comprehensive approach. It’s ok for businesses to communicate the steps they are taking –this is different to exaggerated claims.

At Vanden, we are transparent in all that we do. Our plastic recycling facility is open to anyone that would like to visit, and we encourage clients, prospects, media and industry bodies to do so.

Our internal processes ensure that each load of plastic can be traced from the moment it enters our yard, through to its final destination, we are comfortable and keen to share this information.

Look for businesses that have been awarded with accreditations and certifications. This demonstrates they are taking steps to become more socially and environmentally conscious, and this has been recognised by an authority.  You can view our local, national and international accreditations here.

If your business operations produce plastic scrap, and you would like this to be dealt with in a responsible, sustainable and traceable approach, please contact a member of the Vanden team today.

John Carapetis

Written by John Carapetis


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