Green­wash­ing, the facts

Middle East Business (English) - - NEWS - by An­nemarie Rob­son In­ter­na­tional Ed­i­tor Mid­dle east busi­ness

The term "green­wash­ing" was coined in the 1980s to de­scribe ou­tra­geous cor­po­rate en­vi­ron­men­tal claims. Four decades later, the prac­tice has grown vastly more so­phis­ti­cated. Can you recog­nise green­wash­ing when you see it? We take some ex­am­ples - bot­tled wa­ter, cos­met­ics and food - and pro­vide point­ers to en­able you to de­bunk the myths.

En­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Jay Wester­veld came up with the term in 1986, back when most con­sumers re­ceived their news from three sources: tele­vi­sion, ra­dio and print me­dia. Cor­po­ra­tions reg­u­larly flooded these same me­dia chan­nels with a wave of high-priced, slickly-pro­duced com­mer­cials and print ads try­ing to con­vince peo­ple that they "do no harm". The com­bi­na­tion of limited pub­lic ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion and seem­ingly un­lim­ited ad­ver­tis­ing en­abled com­pa­nies to present them­selves as car­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ards, even as they were en­gag­ing in en­vi­ron­men­tally un­sus­tain­able prac­tices. The av­er­age cit­i­zen is find­ing it more and more dif­fi­cult to tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween those com­pa­nies gen­uinely ded­i­cated to mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and those that are us­ing a green cur­tain to con­ceal dark mo­tives. Con­sumers are con­stantly bom­barded by cor­po­rate cam­paigns tout­ing green goals, pro­grams, and ac­com­plish­ments. Even when cor­po­ra­tions vol­un­tar­ily strengthen their record on the en­vi­ron­ment, they of­ten use multi-mil­lion dol­lar ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns to ex­ag­ger­ate these mi­nor im­prove­ments as ma­jor achieve­ments. Some­times, not even the in­ten­tions are gen­uine. Some com­pa­nies, when forced by leg­is­la­tion or a court de­ci­sion to im­prove their en­vi­ron­men­tal track record, pro­mote the re­sult­ing changes as if they had taken the step vol­un­tar­ily. And at the same time that many cor­po­ra­tions are tout­ing their new green im­age (and their CEOs are giv­ing lec­tures on cor­po­rate eco­log­i­cal ethics), their lob­by­ists are work­ing night and day to gut en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tions placed be­fore na­tional gov­ern­ments. It is only when one re­searches the over­all sus­tain­abil­ity of an or­gan­i­sa­tion that what is be­ing done be­hind the scenes to en­sure that gov­er­nance, best prac­tices, en­vi­ron­men­tal stew­ard­ship etc comes to light. The Global Re­port­ing Ini­tia­tive, pre­vi­ously fea­tured by this mag­a­zine, mea­sures the most widely adopted stan­dards of sus­tain­abil­ity. Ac­cord­ing to KPMG, 93% of the world’s largest 250 cor­po­ra­tions now re­port on their sus­tain­abil­ity per­for­mance. This ar­ti­cle aims to pro­vide a few ex­am­ples and per­haps en­able you to see be­yond the green­wash­ing. When con­sid­er­ing green­wash­ing and wa­ter, one can't es­cape the fact that this is more than just about the wa­ter - there are is­sues about its source, the bot­tle, how it reaches the con­sumer, and whether or not it is re­cy­cled af­ter use. The bot­tled wa­ter in­dus­try re­lies heav­ily on im­ages of moun­tains and pris­tine lakes to sell its prod­ucts. And many com­pa­nies spend mil­lions of dol­lars try­ing to con­vince the pub­lic that their bot­tled wa­ter isn’t only good to drink, but is also good for the planet. One might con­clude that pop­u­lar­ity of bot­tled wa­ter is driven by fear - pre­dom­i­nantly about wa­ter qual­ity from the tap (es­pe­cially in de­vel­op­ing ar­eas), and sec­ondly about the health im­pacts of sug­ary car­bon­ated drinks (para­dox­i­cally of­ten re­ferred to as "soft drinks"). But did you re­alise that much of the bot­tled wa­ter on sale is taken from lo­cal springs, even in droughtaf­fected re­gions? Some bot­tled wa­ter pro­duc­ers take tap wa­ter and sim­ply bot­tle it, re­brand­ing it, charg­ing money for a re­source we have "on tap" at home. By us­ing plas­tic bot­tles and trans­port­ing wa­ter hun­dreds - if not thou­sands - of miles

from source many peo­ple of­ten don't know what it is they are con­sum­ing - when was the last time you looked at the la­bel on a bot­tle of wa­ter? Ac­cord­ing to an ar­ti­cle in the Guardian news­pa­per, we now drink as much pack­aged wa­ter as we do milk. At an av­er­age of 30 litres per per­son per year, bot­tled wa­ter is the sec­ond most pop­u­lar liq­uid re­fresh­ment af­ter car­bon­ated soft drinks – a mar­ket that it is soon set to over­take. Yet the prospect of global sales hit­ting 233bn litres this year brings an­other set of fears. “The prob­lems of waste, in­equity, high eco­nomic costs and im­pacts on lo­cal wa­ter re­sources are in­trin­sic to the en­tire in­dus­try,” says Peter Gle­ick, pres­i­dent of the US-based Pa­cific In­sti­tute. Some pro­duc­ers work to place sus­tain­abil­ity at their core - for ex­am­ple, Coca-Cola has li­censed lo­cal pro­duc­ers for its car­bon­ated and still wa­ter prod­ucts, thus re­duc­ing the car­bon miles some drinks rack up on a daily ba­sis be­ing shipped across the globe. Fran­chisees are also in­vest­ing heav­ily in plants that are as eco­log­i­cally sound as pos­si­ble, re­duc­ing waste­water and us­ing so­lar and wind power to gen­er­ate the en­ergy re­quired to run each plant. Sus­tain­abil­ity is key. Un­for­tu­nately, plas­tic still dom­i­nates with bot­tled wa­ters. The in­dus­try’s big play­ers, such as Nestlé, Danone, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, are all pur­su­ing ef­forts to in­crease re­cy­cled con­tent in poly­eth­yl­ene tereph­tha­late (PET). Coca-Cola, for in­stance, cur­rently av­er­ages an in­dus­try high of 34% of re­cy­cled PET across its bot­tled drinks range (which in­cludes the wa­ter brands Dasani, Glaceau Smart­wa­ter, Vi­ta­m­in­wa­ter and Ciel). It also in­tro­duced its Plan­tBot­tle tech­nol­ogy in 2009 which is 30% plant-based PET and fully re­cy­clable. Other ma­jor bot­tled wa­ter pro­duc­ers, Danone (Aqua, Evian, Volvic, Badoit, Bon­a­font, Villa del Sur, Font Vella) and Nestlé (San Pel­le­grino, Per­rier, Pure Life, Vit­tel, Con­trex, Ac­qua Panna,Poland Spring, Ar­row­head and Sao Lourenco) an­nounced ear­lier in 2017 that they are jointly fund­ing the NaturALL bot­tle with Ori­gin Ma­te­ri­als of West Sacra­mento, Cal­i­for­nia that aims to pro­vide up to 75% of bio based PET bot­tled by 2020. Pep­sico (LIFEWTR and Aqua­fina), led by In­dra K. Nooyi, have in­creased their use of rPET – re­cy­cled P ET – by 4% to 63 mil­lion kilo­grams, which makes them one of the largest pur­chasers of rPET in the con­sumer goods in­dus­try. Still, plas­tic is plas­tic, and it takes hun­dreds of years to biode­grade in a land­fill site. When claims that some bot­tles are more ef­fi­cient and more en­vi­ron­men­tally re­spon­si­ble or less dam­ag­ing to the planet are made, we just need to re­mem­ber the in­hab­i­tants of our oceans and coastal ar­eas af­fected by the mil­lions of tons of non-re­cy­cled bot­tles and plas­tics float­ing around the globe and pol­lut­ing our once pris­tine beaches, ecosys­tems and wa­ter­ways. Some brands are not quite what

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