Usually if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true. So, when a brand says they’re sustainable, carbon neutral, or any of those eco buzzwords we’re skeptical. It turns out that consumers aren’t the only ones. The United Nations is skeptical too and bringing together experts for a climate panel to review companies’ sustainable claims. The aim is to prevent greenwashing by reviewing the actions brands have taken to mitigate their impact to the environment.
Feel good greenwashing has been rampant across various industries. In particular the term ‘net zero’ or ‘carbon neutral’ have raised alarms within the U.N since it’s imperative that worldwide we reach our emissions goals to reduce global warming. Since both terms allude to a company reducing carbon emissions, greenwashing campaigns can be hazardous when it comes to helping consumers make buying decisions that are better for the environment.
This U.N panel aims to reduce greenwashing by reviewing sustainable claims and encouraging companies to provide credible data and facts to back up their claims. After all if something is true, there are usually a few facts behind it.
The Problem With ‘Feel Good’ Greenwashing
Greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in the 1980s after reacting to hotels promoting reusing towels to ‘save the environment’. This was also around the time that oil company Chevron released its ‘green’ campaign and commercials featuring bears and woodland creatures. Both are examples of companies using marketing for glossy environmental campaigns. The reality is that neither of those companies actively changed their processes to reduce their environmental impact.
Unfortunately, for consumers, greenwashing has only increased. As more of us seek out sustainable products, more brands are responding with glossy green campaigns to make money off of consumer trends. Take for instance the fast fashion retailer launching a ‘conscious’ collection made with recycled materials. We as consumers might think that we’re contributing to waste reduction and choosing materials that are better for the environment. But, what that fast fashion retailer won’t disclose is that the recycled content could represent less than 40% of the total garment composition. And, that garment is still made with plastic-based materials. Also, that same brand might fail to mention that the cheap price of their items are only possible because they’re still being made in unregulated factories not vetted for slave labor.
These greenwashing campaigns are allowed to happen because there is little regulation around what companies and brands have to disclose to back up their claims. And, terms like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ are vague. Environmentalists, governing bodies and founders of ethical fashion labels have called out these greenwashing campaigns and the lack of regulation and transparency within the industry. Norway has called out fast fashion brands for greenwashing. At the G7 summit, designer Stella McCartney urged governments to better regulate the fashion industry. “One of the biggest problems that we have in the fashion industry is we’re not policed in any way,” she said. “We need to be incentivized, [and] we need to have taxations looked at to work in a better way.”
How Can Companies Move From Greenwashing to Net Zero?
We urgently need every business, investor, city, state and region to walk the talk on their net-zero promises. ~ United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres
The UN panel will be led by Canada’s former environmental minister, Catherine McKenna. Other members of the 16-person committee include Australian climate scientist Bill Hare and South African-based sustainable finance expert Malango Mughogho. Together the 16 members will make recommendations on the standards that must be met and the definitions for sustainable claims surrounding the term ‘net zero’. This committee will also review the standards and methods used to measure a brand’s sustainable progress.
By addressing the problems with poor regulation and the need for transparency the committee can ensure that consumers aren’t being misled by false advertising and that companies are taking bigger actions to reduce their carbon emissions than they are on launching glossy campaigns. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres emphasized the importance of regulations. “Tougher net-zero standards and strengthened accountability around the implementation of these commitments can deliver real and immediate emissions cuts.
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