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ENVIRONMENT-FRIENDLY CATERING VS GREEN CATERING

Green is one of the most used and misused words. Many things can be green: pledges, destinations, investments, marketing, technologies and not least, catering. Environment-friendly catering is gaining an increasingly important role in event organising. Deciding on green catering does not only entail taking the much-needed response to the climate crisis but also presents a crucial business opportunity for displaying commitment toward a sustainable society. Thus, the question no longer lies in why we should opt for green catering but how we can ensure environment-friendly catering at events becomes a priority. As always, the realm of green catering is often exploited and manipulated. This article will delve into exposing such misleading practices.

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 will mislead 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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Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

Case 5: WISDOM IS IN EQUILIBRIUM

The luxurious banquet hosted on the global Titanic of events will undisputedly have to be replaced by a more humble dinner

Type of greenwashing: Ambiguity and vagueness of claims

Nature is complex, and humans are masters of complicating matters. That is the root of the problem our civilisation has with our nature. Whether nature perseveres with us depends on our future ability to abstain from many privileges. It seems the discussion on carbon-neutral catering is as aimless as the last week’s debate on the carbon-neutrality of digital events. Can catering be completely carbon-neutral? That is a miscalculation which is crystal clear to all event organisers.

It is a fact that catering’s carbon footprint can range from disaster to equilibrium. People and animals are akin in our breathing. What we breathe out is absorbed by plants and vice versa. The answer to catering is thus in establishing the right balance, equilibrium. Carbon dioxide plays an integral role in synthesising sugar, enabling growth. Carbon dioxide is fundamental to plants.

In the context of green catering, we must consider this aspect. We can speak exclusively of environment-friendly catering at events. Talking about carbon-neutral or quasi-green catering is absurd.

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Umanotera's five ground rules

Experts from the Slovenian NGO foundation Umanotera say the following about environment-friendly food and catering:

1. Predominantly plant-based food

Compared to food originating from animals, plant-based food has a considerably smaller carbon footprint. Industrial livestock farming is to blame for the declining quality of soil and water and its consequential effects on dwindling biodiversity. By opting for plant-based food, we can contribute to lessening the repercussions of climate change.

2. Harvested sustainably – ecologically or biodynamically

Environment-friendly food is produced by emitting fewer greenhouse gases and without synthetic fertilisers or other products.

3. Food not ending in waste

As wasted food decomposes, methane is emitted – a greenhouse gas with one of the most negative impacts. By wasting still edible food, we lose sources that could be used for its production.

4. Locally-produced food bought directly from local suppliers or a local fair trade store

Food produced locally travels fewer kilometres from farm to fork, thus reducing emissions caused by transport.

5. Minimally processed food

By opting for less processed food, we contribute to reducing plastic. The goal at events must be to ban the use of plastic entirely.


Further information regarding environment-friendly catering is available at www.umanotra.org.

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Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek

There is a divide within our industry; those aware of the environmental problem and the unperturbed bunch ignorant of the climate crisis.

Umanotera’s five ground rules represent a quintessential guide for ensuring environment-friendly catering. Based on their guidelines, you can check what your catering providers offer. If they measure their carbon footprint, you can rest assured that they are headed in the right direction.

We were startled by the results of our comprehensive study conducted among event organisers in March 2022. Surprisingly-high, 54% of respondents answered that catering might affect the environment. Only 39,7% of them were absolutely convinced catering harms the environment. We received similar answers to whether climate change will impact event organising. 50,8% of respondents stated that the impact is significant and that we should start changing immediately. The rest did not display such conviction. There is a divide within our industry; those aware of the environmental problem and the unperturbed bunch ignorant of the climate crisis.

There is a long road ahead and numerous debates yet to be settled in everyday situations. Imagine that you are in Iceland, and you are told that all food is produced locally and ecologically. You just swallowed a tasteful Kalamata olive from Greece accompanied by a glass of Bordeaux wine.

Luckily, our survey bore fruit, as we received numerous intriguing suggestions and good practice cases. For instance, there are several projects implementing a 100% plastic-free philosophy. Among the good practice cases, respondents mentioned the BIO hotels certification, the ResQ app, the Zero Waste Project, the Metal Days Festival, where 50% of the food is plant-based, and the Food for Good project in Italy.

We will appreciate your suggestions and ideas to share with colleagues. Together, we can accomplish more.

In Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is reporting a boom in the number of complaints about environmental claims – up from 117 in 2006 to 561 last year. “What we are seeing is claims about being carbon-neutral, zero-carbon emissions and use of words such as sustainable and organic,” says Lord Smith, chairman of the ASA.

About the author

Gorazd Čad is a seasoned meeting planner who has dedicated 25 years of his life to the meetings and events industry. He witnessed the fall of Yugoslavia, the establishment of independent Slovenia, adapted to the internet revolution of the ’90s, overcame the economic crisis of 2008, the 2010 eruption of an Icelandic volcano, and the 2019 meetings industry burnout, 2020’s corona crisis and more. Among other things, Gorazd Čad is a professor of geography and history who is sincerely worried about the planet’s future. He strives for events that will be environmentally friendly and responsible to attendees and society.


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