greenwashing
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GREENWASHING WITH GREEN PLEDGES

Seeking legitimacy for sustainable aspirations often leads to greenwashing that can occur even if the purpose is well-intentional. In this article, we will delve into green labels. If their use is based on unclear, incomplete and misleading criteria, they can quickly lead to greenwashing. Luckily, event organisers are becoming increasingly environmentally aware, which helps them read between the lines. Our examples will help shine a light on how to avoid the perils of greenwashing manifested in various pledges found throughout the meetings industry.

The editorial board of Kongres Magazine has been closely following and analysing various sustainability marketing campaigns. It seems their numbers have skyrocketed this year. As it turns out, many of them are misleading and purposefully used by greenwashers to increase sales or improve a company’s reputation. By doing so, they deceive well-intentional consumers and, ultimately, do not contribute to solving ecological and social issues. It is vital to stay aware of the ways in which they attempt to outwit us. Recognising greenwashing is how we can reduce its influence on our choices.

We have decided to prepare a series of articles that will uncover such practices and, hopefully, contribute to a more responsible meetings industry.

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Environmentalist Jay Westerveld coined the term “greenwashing” in 1986. While on an expedition to Samoa, he was greatly upset by the hotel sign concerning the reuse of towels. He concluded that its purpose was solely a strategy to lower expenses instead of the hotel’s sustainable and responsible aspirations.

Westerveld was the first to use the term greenwashing in his expert article, and the rest is history. The term has survived till today and encompasses all areas of sustainability, including gender equality, poverty, hunger, health, education, paid work etc.

There are several typical examples of greenwashing. They have been around for some time, yet, we continue to be duped by them. We have summarised the most typical examples of greenwashing below:

1. Presenting information selectively

An example of greenwashing is emphasising environment-friendly information whilst withholding negative information. A typical example is ignoring the carbon footprint of event transfers which can amount to 75% of an event’s entire carbon footprint.

2. Lack of proof to back up claims

Let us suppose a company claims their event is green or eco-friendly but does not enclose any concrete proof. They should at least calculate their event’s carbon footprint and support it with a certificate issued by an official institution.

3. Ambiguity and vagueness of claims

Another way of misleading is using loose and undefined terms that are nearly impossible to understand in one way. A recurring example, for instance, is stating that an event is carbon-neutral without elaborating what that stands for.

4. Deceiving and irrelevant labels

Companies will often refer to certificates and labels that, in fact, do not exist or are misleading. Lately, there have been cases of green venue finders with no real foundation. This type of deception is embodied by companies that sell “products without CFC”, even though chlorofluorocarbons are forbidden by law.

5. Highlighting the lesser evil

Event organising is environmentally unfriendly. Hence, the claim that one event is greener than another is plainly false.

6. Selling lies

On occasions, companies choose to proclaim lies. Making false claims, certificates, and inventing facts leads to misleading customers.

7. Meaningless labels

Certificates, labels and awards can often have little or no meaning. In some cases, organisations even award themselves with certificates or endorsements not backed by any authority.

There are even cases when companies tell outright lies. Sooner or later, such practices are exposed, and information about them spreads like wildfire. We will uncover the first example of such deceit.

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Case 2: GREENWASHING WITH GREEN PLEDGES

Green pledges are becoming an increasingly powerful marketing tool within the meetings industry

Type of greenwashing: Deceiving and irrelevant labels

Purchasing canned tuna is often a subconscious process. In our region, we trust the origin of products supposedly from the Adriatic Sea. The taste of the Adriatic was a slogan we grew up with. We are convinced to believe that fish and tuna, in particular, from the Adriatic is far tastier than tuna from other seas. Our naiveness is exploited by one of the largest tuna producers in the region. The Eva trademark is synonymous with the Adriatic Sea; however, the brand has lately become known for the taste of the Meditteranean. I am still often a victim of this nostalgic subconscious consumer reaction. Yet, as I check the small print information on the can, I sadly conclude that there is not a trace of the Adriatic Tuna in the can. The tuna comes from the Atlantic Sea, the Indian Ocean, and who knows where. The Adriatic or the Mediterranean Sea are the only places you will not find mentioned.

I feel similar when bombarded daily with new green labels that are boasted by meeting venues and destinations. Until we precisely and meticulously read the coded data on the backside of the can, PR message or the latest destination video, we are unsure about what we are buying in the first place.

Green and eco-labels are synonymous with labelling products and services that supposedly meet particular criteria and standards. At the same time, they label the social and ecological validity of products.

To simplify, labels certified according to the ISO methodology are more trustworthy than those that are not.

Labelling, however, often leads to confusion, as it is not clear what a particular label signifies. To understand the concept of labelling, one need not look further than the ISO 14020 standard that demands the following requirements for green labelling:

– information presented via green labels must give relevant, precise and understandable environmental aspects of products and services;
– the claims must be supported by verifiable scientific methods;
– A product or service must include all aspects of its life cycle;
– information pertaining to the methodology, processes and criteria must be publicly available to all users (open access to licences).

To simplify, labels certified according to the ISO methodology are more trustworthy than those that are not.

Considering green labels seem to be functioning well, estimates suggest over 450 of them can be found on the European market. Their number also represents plentiful opportunities for greenwashing. Labels can be awarded by official government bodies (European or national), various institutes or other private companies. On the other hand, some are owned by select companies or business concerns.

The Net Zero Carbon Events project recently made waves and activated the entire meetings industry. The phenomenal project connected all key stakeholders, who pledged to reduce the carbon footprint of their events by 50% by 2030. JMIC executed the event exemplary and in accordance with the ISO 14020 standard. The project, or, better yet, intiative, will take place in several phases and was professionally communicated and presented. You can find out more at https://netzerocarbonevents.org/.

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Photo Credit: Net Zero Carbon Events

The problem that particular signatories did not understand entirely lies in the definition. Here is what the initiators of the project wrote: The Pledge is a commitment which has been developed through a collaborative process involving stakeholders from across the events industry.

Signatories will commit to:

– Before the end of 2023, publish the organisation’s pathway to achieving net-zero by 2050 at the latest, with an interim target in line with the Paris Agreement’s requirement to reduce global GHG emissions by 50% by 2030
– Collaborate with partners, suppliers and customers to drive change across the value chain
– Measure and track Scope 1,2 and 3 GHG emissions according to industry best practice
– Report on progress at least every two years.

The rules are thus entirely clear and precisely defined. Nonetheless, there have been marketing abuses of this noble intiative, where individuals have been misusing the pledge for greenwashing purposes. The line is thin, and in the case of Net Zero Carbon Events, it is about commitment, not a label that makes your event or conference centre green, sustainable or however you name it.

Telling of the situation is our research that we conducted in autumn 2021. The survey was taken by 278 event organisers across Europe. We asked them how much they trust green certificates and how familiar they are with particular ones. Let’s take a look at the answers:

Do you trust green event certificates issued by different institutions?

62.5 % Depends on the institution
19.4 % Yes
12.5 % No
5.6 % I don’t know

How well do you know the following GREEN EVENT certificates?
(from 1 I have never heard of it to 5 – I am completely familiar with it)

2,74 ISO 20121 – Sustainable Events
2,19 LEED: Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design
2,00 The Austrian Eco-label Guideline 62 for “Green Meetings and Green Events”
1,97 The BS:8901- British Standard Sustainable Events Certification
1,95 Green Globe
1,91 EIC Sustainable Event Certificate
1,88 Green Meeting Standard
1,82 SEPC Sustainable Event Professional Certificate Programme by Events Industry Council
1,78 IACC Green Star
1,73 SMPP Sustainable Meeting Planners Programme
1,69 Green Key Meetings
1,65 A Greener Festival Certificate
1,58 Positive Impact Ambassador
1,55 SEA Accredited Professional

The numbers speak for themselves – people are not familiar with certificates. Hence, there is much space for greenwashing. That is why we have plenty of work and education ahead of us. More importantly, providers themselves should strive to be fair.

In any case, the core message of the greenwashing story is to start measuring the carbon footprint of events as soon as possible. That is when our path of discovery and solving pressing issues will start.

In the future, I wish to see a system similar to that of energy classes. Such labels show which energy class from A to G individual household appliances belong in relation to their energy efficiency. They help consumers choose products that cost less energy and thus help them save money.

If we could label events the same way, I do not doubt we could make a leap forward. Needless to say, we would need to solve this on an EU scale, similar to the European Product Registry for Energy Labelling (EPREL) model.


Note: We look forward to your opinion about such practices. Feel free to comment and send us further examples of greenwashing. We will inspect them and write additional articles about them in Kongres Magazine.

Slovenian Advertising Code on greenwashing

What the Slovenian Advertising Code says about greenwashing:

Article 17: ENVIRONMENTAL ARGUMENTATION

17.1
Advertising that includes environmental argumentation should be presented in a manner that does not exploit the consumer’s environmental concern or his potential lack of knowledge about environmental themes. It should not contain claims or visual representations that could, in any way, mislead the consumers about products’ benefits from an environmental viewpoint or the environmental activities the advertiser will conduct. Messages can apply to concrete products or activities; they cannot, however, unjustifiably imply that they cover all activities of a company, group or sector.

17.2
Claims concerning environmental preservation are not allowed to be used groundlessly. Claims such as environment-friendly, completely biodegradable, greener, friendlier or organic may be acceptable, provided the advertisers prove their truthfulness.

17.3
Comparisons are acceptable if the advertisers can prove that their product improves from an environmental perspective compared to their own or competitors’ products.

17.4
Claims and comparisons can be misleading if they leave out important information.

17.5
When scientific opinions are divided, and the results are not final, the advertisement has to make that clear. An advertiser cannot quote that their claim is generally accepted if that is not the case.

17.6
In case a product never had any evidently harmful effects on the environment, the advertisement cannot suggest that its structure was altered to make it more environment-friendly. It is, however, lawful to quote claims about a product whose composition has been altered or has been used hitherto without ingredients that are known to be harmful to the environment.

17.7
The use of lesser-known expert terms should be avoided. If the use of a scientific term is unavoidable, its meaning should be clear and understandable or additionally explained.

17.8
A broader explanation of the most commonly used claims and terms is defined in the International Chamber of Commerce Code of Advertising and Marketing Practices.

For more information please check: https://iccwbo.org/content/uploads/sites/3/2018/09/icc-advertising-and-marketing-communications-code-int.pdf