Photo Credit: NotWeed


Awareness regarding environmental problems in design developed hand in hand with the professionalisation of design. That is why we are well aware of the effects of various materials on the environment today. Furthermore, the culture of #nowaste and #zerowaste has improved immensely, most notably because of the established philosophy of circular economy. Two decades ago, designers already had to consider a product’s entire life cycle. However, adopting a circular design is not enough today. The goal is to recycle perpetually, creating an endless green cycle, and seek ways to avoid waste as much as possible. The ultimate goal of adopting this approach is to minimise the use of new sources and materials.

Event organisers consider waste too, yet we spend almost no time pondering what we throw away. We can do much more than recycle badges. I see that endeavour as a classic form of greenwashing, as plastic-coated paper badges are almost impossible to recycle. In contrast to organic matter, plastic does not disintegrate in nature, constantly piling up. It is particularly problematic as microplastics fill our oceans. The well-intended recycling of plastic event badges thus quickly turns into a 500-year cycle for the plastic to disintegrate into micro pieces. Ghastly, right?

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.

Photo Credit: Marko Delbello Ocepek


Type of greenwashing: Presenting information selectively

Paper can be recycled four to six times. Processing 1 tonne of recycled paper (compared to making paper from cellulose fibres) reduces air pollution by up to 73%, saving up to 30,000 litres of water and up to 4,000 kWh of electricity (the average annual consumption of a household). There are even more staggering facts in regard to recycling paper.

The information about recycling event badges speaks volumes. Recycling badges has become a standard part of sustainable reports and the most common “green” endeavour at events. But what does it actually mean if a trade show organiser recycled 2,311 event badges after the trade show? It sounds impressive, yet the same report notes 9,303 participants attended the event. That means only 24.8% of all badges were recycled. Further problematic is the fact that the badges are often made from plastic-coated paper to make them more durable and appear fancy. Badges thus comprise a mix of plastic and paper that technically cannot be recycled. Such badges wind up in mixed waste before ending their journey in incinerators, further exacerbating our environmental emissions.

Photo Credit: Algae Ink

That is one of the numerous reasons why we should not blindly believe event organisers when they say they recycle badges. We should first find out what materials the badges are made of and where they wind up after the event. There are alternatives still, such as paperless e-ink digital interactive badges. Several providers offer them, effectively solving the problem of the limited functionality of classic badges.

We must start with a thought-out design in light of adopting a circular design and using alternative materials at events. Holistic and circular design should take centre stage in the earliest phases when we decide on the materials and creative outline. Designing printed materials is most often the apple of discord between designers and environmentally-aware event organisers. Some simple measures can significantly reduce our environmental footprint. These include avoiding empty pages, sizing down on the format of publication, opting for standard paper formats, reducing the use of ink that makes recycling challenging, avoiding darker, saturated colours (as they use more ink than bright colours), considering the use of fonts and opting for those that use less ink and finally, reducing saturated, high-resolution images.

Photo Credit: NotWeed

Technology is an indispensable aid today. Algae Ink is the first commercially accessible ink, developed by Living Ink Technologies, which uses algae cells. The material makes the ink completely biological and renewable. NotWeed paper is the first industrial-made paper from invasive plant species. Made from 50% locally-produced cellulose from Fallopia japonica, the product was developed by a sustainable interdisciplinary association for developing sustainable design. Similar innovations are plentiful.

Perhaps the most overlooked sustainable material is cardboard. This versatile ecological material can transform into innovative trade show furniture, scenography, labelling system or decoration. All that comes from 100% recycled, renewable material that is completely biodegradable and has a low carbon footprint.

We have tremendous challenges to overcome ahead. Above all, we must advance the meetings industry using a new, regenerative circular design concept. We must use renewable biological and technical materials to replace the old “endless economic growth” concept from the eighties. Our industry will have to follow the new circular paradigm.

Note: We look forward to hearing about your perspective on recycling badges and how to make the meetings industry greener. 


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:


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:

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