greenwashing_waste

WASTE-FREE EVENTS?

I remember our first attempts to reduce the amount of waste produced by our event Conventa. We initiated the Conventa 5R project in 2009, a philosophy which can be translated to: Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and Refuse. However, everything we had built with the help of our partners came crashing the first year, as the head caretaker of the venue asked us why we had strained ourselves with managing waste. As it turned out, she threw all recycled waste into one container, which was transported to the central waste depot by a waste management company. Thus, our first attempt at managing waste ended rather miserably. Fifteen years ago, it became evident that the manner in which we manage waste represents the most pressing challenge. That is why I am sceptical when reading about campaigns declaring waste-free events. Waste produced at events is inevitable and nearly impossible to avoid. That even goes for digital events. In the field of waste management, event organisers showcase either their genuineness and innovative approach or their incompetence in tackling such issues. Yet again, this is a field where greenwashing holds a firm grip. Greenwashing campaigns declaring waste-free events use ambiguity and vagueness of claims or lack of proof to back up claims.

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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Photo Credit: Canva/Pexels

Case 8: THE BEST WASTE IS THAT WHICH IS NOT CREATED

Type of greenwashing: Ambiguity and vagueness of claims

When one finds themselves amid a paradise in one of the most beautiful Croatian islands, they become aware of how fragile the balance between tourism and nature preservation is. In 2006, the island was declared a national park. Since then, the island has been experiencing tumultuous change, and in the past few years, visitors have started noticing yellow and blue waste containers scattered around the island. The European Commission extensively supported their implementation through one of their green projects. Alas, the aptly sorted waste ends up in a disgraceful junkyard next to a road overlooking the sea. The disposal area is a telling sign of the glitz and glamour of modern waste management. In the same breath, it serves as a brutal reminder of the consequences of tourism. No one yearns for waste. Yet, long term, we must approach waste management more responsibly.

Event organisers are thus reliant on the quality of waste management in cities where they organise events. The GDS Index offers insight into how waste is managed by destinations. It measures the percentage of recycled waste, electricity from renewables and hectares of green areas per 100.000 inhabitants.

GDS Index - Sustainability Benchmark

Let’s delve into the intriguing comparison of several European destinations:

City% of waste recycled% of electricity from renewablesHectares of green area per 100.000 inhabitants
Helsinki52%40%8579 ha
Ljubljana47%18%6805 ha
Copenhagen45%67%747 ha
Brussels44%6%230 ha
Basel40%100%1000 ha
Bordeaux40%22%5264 ha
Zurich40%100%1088 ha
Vienna37%16%1085 ha
Tallinn36%22%1142 ha
Gothenburg35%56%6029 ha
Berlin29%5%857 ha
Glasgow27%97%1290 ha
Prague22%16%1798 ha

 

Source: https://www.gds.earth/

greenwashing_waste
Photo Credit: Canva/Pexels

In short, I am glad I can create events in a city ranked top of the comparison, where 47% of all waste is recycled. The waste we create thus seems to end up in good hands.

Yet that does not suggest we should not strive to treat and manage waste at events responsibly. Projects such as Zero Waste or World Without Waste inspire us to do so. It seems we are becoming increasingly aware of the challenge of managing waste; however, life goes by so swiftly that we often do not have time to change. Every event attendee and, more importantly, the event organiser must ask themself firstly how much waste they will create and what will happen to it after the event. In the context of waste management, greenwashing thus occurs because campaigns do not provide holistic information, or the information is not detailed enough.

Event organisers can leverage numerous tools to reduce creating waste or manage it correctly. Either way, we must reduce waste to a minimum, which should become the highest priority. Afterwards, we should prepare waste for reuse, recycle it, in case of biodegradable waste, compost it, reuse it (to produce energy) and ultimately, opt for waste disposal. That is what the European waste policy dictates.

It is integral to know where most waste originates at an event. Core findings from Conventa have shown most waste comes from:

– waste generated by gastronomic services
– waste generated in setting up exhibitor stands
– waste connected to marketing and communication within the project
– waste connected to labelling the event and exhibitor space
– waste in the form of promotional material left behind by exhibitors
– sanitary waste

In line with Conventa’s 5R philosophy (Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse), we ask ourselves the following questions every year:

– Can we eliminate waste before it is created?
– How to reduce the amount of waste and measure it?
– Can we reuse waste?
– Can a third party reuse waste?
– Which type of waste can be managed separately?
– How much will waste management cost us?

Waste management is a segment that can become a success story only if all key stakeholders are incorporated in its implementation. Informing, spreading awareness and encouraging attendees to adhere to rules is therefore crucial in this endeavour. Waste management happens to be the most problematic part of our story each year and the reason why we recap this part of the story with all 18 partner projects annually. This year, we plan on measuring the amount of waste and the carbon footprint our event creates. We hope the results will provide valuable insight.

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14 recommendations for managing waste

As a practical tool, I have listed a few friendly tips sent to us by the Slovenian NGO, Umanotera. These recommendations serve as an excellent basis for event organisers to start managing waste more responsibly:

1. Reduce the amount of used paper by opting for electronic communication and registration, two-sided printing, e-publications and e-media material.

2. Awards (sponsor awards included) should not be material or accolades that can quickly become waste. Give non-material gifts (for instance, unique trips, experiences in nature etc.).

3. When serving food and beverages at an event, use reusable glasses and plates.

4. Ensure access to tap water, thus reducing the need to use bottles.

5. To reduce the number of wasted plastic products (coffee, tea, sugar), purchase larger packages or products without plastic. Avoid serving portions (drinks, sugar…) in plastic or paper plastic.

6. Place soap dispensers and fabric towels in toilets.

7. Encourage providers to deliver material in reusable plastic and to pick up the plastic.

8. Choose non-toxic products (including cleaning agents and colours) and order them in large packaging, suitable for recycling. By doing so, you will prevent the creation of toxic waste.

9. After the event, donate equipment, food, furniture and other products you no longer need to sports organisations, shelters, charitable organisations or centres for reuse.

10. Avoid printing. If you have to print materials, use recycled paper.

11. Refill ink and toner for cartridges in printers.

12. Minimise the use of handouts (leaflets, advertisements and other promotional material).

13. Advocate reused products and rent quality equipment with a longer lifespan and thus avoid changing equipment too often and creating additional waste.

14. Do not use unnecessary single-use paper and plastic products or consumables.

Source: https://www.umanotera.org/kaj-delamo/pretekle-aktivnosti/cista-zmaga/

In addition to the listed aspects, we must acknowledge the new geopolitical situation, which has hampered recycling. Recycling is no longer the first option due to soaring energy prices. The most typical example is plastic. Therefore, our solution is to reuse. From our central 5R philosophy, we should primarily focus on Reuse and Refuse. That is how we can contribute most to our environment. Requiring minimal effort and time, we can achieve maximum satisfaction and have a tremendous impact by reusing.


Note: We look forward to hearing about your experiences and good practice cases in waste management.

hotel-towels-pile-greenwashing

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.

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.

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