By Christine Greyvenstein
I consider myself to have a small carbon footprint. I have a small car that has low CO2
emissions, as well as an eco-kettle, and LED power-saving TV, and I use the bare minimum amount of electricity and water to perform daily tasks. Then there are people in society who are even more eco-conscious than myself who try to live in environmentally friendly way not to be noticed as philanthropists but to ensure that planet Earth is sustainable for future generations. Inevitably, those consumers want to ensure that when they do business or purchase goods, they’re contributing to a greener future. Unfortunately, with the rise of green business practices, there has also been an increase in greenwashing, a process that can be described as the use of false or unsubstantiated claims to market and sell products or services. A quick Google
search on the regulation of the use of green claims yields many debates on the subject, but no groundbreaking solutions.
Rory Murray, marketing director of Tuffy Brands, shared his opinion on the issue in an article titled ‘greenwashing versus actual change’
. In it, he warns that consumers should be careful not to buy into clever ‘green’ marketing claims. “Greenwashing is not a new concept, as consumers have been misled about the environmental benefits of products and services for years [and] there is an ever increasing list of dubious marketing practices. Green is no longer just a colour but has become a movement to make money.” Murray goes on to highlight that so many South African brands are guilty of labelling themselves as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ when they are actually just being false or vague. In a recent piece
by law firm Adams & Adams, partner Charne le Roux also investigated the issue and gave her opinion. “In South Africa, a sustainability survey conducted by Ogilvy Earth SA in 2011 shows a high level of eco-awareness by SA consumers, but that only 18.3% of them trust a company’s ‘green’ credentials.” Le Roux believes that the distrust might have been sparked by an array of false or unsubstantiated claims deceiving those consumers who really want to make a difference through the products they purchase.
Murray believes that the biggest problem lies with the regulation of ‘green’ claims and says it’s the consumers’ responsibility to demand the truth. “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 (ASA), and even then the resultant impact is not entirely useful.”
Looking at the legality of greenwashing in the advertising industry, Le Roux says the ASA is perhaps one of the only regulating bodies as it deals specifically with the use of environmental claims in ads. “Absolute environmental claims, such as ‘… free’ or ‘contains no …’ are all subject to substantiation. The [advertising] code also dictates that environmental signs or symbols should indicate their source and should not imply official approval.” And one such sign is the recycling symbol, which indicates that a product has been manufactured with recycled material. Murray 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 [the packaging] 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.”
Le Roux adds that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) can also be used as a tool against advertisers’ claims that seem to be vague or unsubstantiated, as the Act specifically prohibits misleading trade descriptions that can be either direct or indirect indications of a product’s ingredients, materials and method of manufacturing.
Although consumers have the ASA and CPA at their disposal, Le Roux says there are few regulations against ‘green’ words, terms and descriptions. Until such measures are put in place, it’s up to consumers to do their research and protect themselves from being deceived by deceptive marketers.
Have you ever been greenwashed or suspicious of ‘green’ claims? What regulations and penalties should be put in place to protect consumers? Leave your comments on our blog