SUMMER 2022 - APOCALYPSE NOW
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.
Case 11: CONSPIRACY THEORIES
Type of greenwashing: Presenting information selectively
We have been living in an ice age for some time. The colder our cars and meeting halls get, the hotter Earth becomes. Vice versa, the hotter our summers, the colder our hotels. An increasing number of sceptics doubt climate change is real. Science provides an unequivocal answer to doubters. Climatologists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been publishing exact numbers since 1992. Their warnings from that time have been coming true with uncanny precision.
Pseudoscience is dangerous and usually becomes popular in crisis situations. Their advocates claim that the climate change we face is a part of our planet’s natural cycle and not a consequence of human action. The second theory is that we have to ascribe the higher temperatures on Earth to the increasingly warmer Sun. Both claims have been dismantled countless times by science. Social media, however, acts as a catalyst and booster for conspiracy theories. Once, conspiracy theorists convened in the intimacy of bars, their stories bothering only waiters. As Umberto Eco put it perfectly: “Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak when they once only spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community … but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the idiots.”
Naivety and overgeneralizations are typical of our times. The world is intrinsically complex, let alone the problems we face. Therefore, it is surprising that climate sceptics still get attention in the media. Unfortunately, quite a number of them come from politics. I do not doubt there are some across Europe. Not only did the former American president, Donald Trump and President of Brasil, Javier Bolsonaro, express their doubts about our planet getting hotter, but even some established European political parties. These include the Alternative for Germany (AfD) Party and the British UKIP. According to a study conducted by the French press agency AFP, climate conspiracy theorists are cited more frequently in the English-writing press, otherwise famed for high journalist standards. The list includes the New York Times, The Guardian, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily Telegraph.
It seems befitting that event organisers become better informed, not to fall prey to populist farse scattered throughout the media.
Events happen to have tremendous power as they educate and inform. A pivotal mission of our industry is to spread awareness through events. In my opinion, the meetings industry has all the potential to make use of the climate crisis. Nevertheless, there is no time for waiting. We must go from words to actions. Thus, we can opt to travel to an event by train, save energy, change our diet, manage our waste and change our consumerist patterns.
Alongside spreading awareness, event organisers also have the task of developing events with a low carbon footprint by reducing energy. We are the ones who have to adapt to the situation, not the environment. Above all, we have to accept an array of new measures. But first, we need to change our lifestyles. That is arguably the most challenging yet most valuable step.
Denial has never benefited society
Denying climate change seems a convenient excuse to organise events according to old ways. That is precisely greenwashing, which is often well-hidden and sophisticated, fueled by greed and egoism.
Most importantly, as good managers, we should think responsibly and long-term. We are already feeling the effects of climate change, as the rising fuel prices affect flight tickets and hotel services. The increasing costs of food are reflected in catering and so on. Whoever adapts the fastest to the new reality will survive or even increase their competitiveness.
Note: We look forward to hearing about your experiences and good practice cases in organising sustainable events.
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
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.
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.
Comparisons are acceptable if the advertisers can prove that their product improves from an environmental perspective compared to their own or competitors’ products.
Claims and comparisons can be misleading if they leave out important information.
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.
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.
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.
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.