Greenwashing, the facts
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