Greenwashing has become somewhat of a buzzword of late, but what is ‘greenwashing’ and how much of a problem is it in the fight against climate change and environmental damage?

Greenwashing is defined as ‘disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally-responsible public image’.

The term has been around since the 1980s but as the demand for sustainable products from consumers increases thanks to greater public awareness of the importance of protecting our environment, businesses have honed in even further on the demand for ‘green’ products & services. This means they now paint a picture of being environmentally-responsible when in reality, after all factors are considered, this may not be the case.

The Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) recently co-ordinated a global review of randomly selected websites finding that 40% of green claims online could be misleading1.

What is greenwashing and how can we avoid it?

Photo description: ‘Compostable plastic cups found during a beach cleanup in New York. Don’t be misled, single use plastic alternatives like these are still harmful to the environment. These ‘bioplastics’ are often only compostable in an industrial composting facility – meaning in most cases they just end up in the landfill.’ / Brian Yurasits

How does it affect the industries we operate in?

For the industrial and institutional (I&I) and chemical industries, methods of greenwashing can include:

Products containing harmful substances below a level required to be declared on a label or Safety Data Sheet

Because of this, there can sometimes be hidden environmental hazards that aren’t obvious within the product.

 The use of natural or plant-based raw materials that are not sustainably sourced

Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean it’s eco friendly! Particularly if the method to obtain the natural ingredient causes environmental disruption; a well-known example of this would be palm oil.

Carbon footprint and the amount of CO2 produced by making a product

This is something consumers are understanding more and more, but the calculation can only be accurate if you take all aspects into consideration. This has to include everything from sourcing components, manufacturing the finished product and the journey to the consumer, all of which has an associated carbon footprint.

What does Genesis Biosciences do about greenwashing?

By the very nature of our core business, working with and growing beneficial Bacillus bacteria, we need chemistry that works with biology, not against it.

When formulating products, our R&D team works with regulatory specialists to ensure we are following our eco-benign® checklist and select the most environmentally-responsible raw materials that don’t compromise on efficacy.

We work closely with our key suppliers, all of which understand our industry-leading environmental demands. As new products come on to the market, they make us aware of them but then expect and receive questions way beyond the information provided in the SDS and data sheet.

This is because we ask questions about the environmental toxicity against more than one factor, the source of each element, the physical source, transport methods and more. Only once we are satisfied that all the answers fit our criteria do we even consider the material for our formulations. If our supplier advises there is no data available or if they aren’t able to provide any of the information we require, the raw material will not be considered.

As regulations in the various regions we operate in evolve and new data comes to light regarding raw materials, formulations are reviewed and options considered to ensure we are still meeting our eco-benign® credentials.

If a raw material needs to be changed due to a revision in classification or it can no longer be sourced sustainably, revised formulations are put through rigorous stability testing followed by efficacy testing to ensure the products still perform as our customers expect.

Our industry is ever evolving and staying aware of the latest environmentally-responsible options available to us is an ongoing program and will always be a core responsibility for our R&D scientists.

What is greenwashing and how can we avoid it? Fast fashion example

Photo description: A range of candles and homeware made to look ethical & eco-friendly, sold by Primark – notorious for its fast fashion, non-eco and unethical practices. / Jess Morgan

What’s being done to combat greenwashing?

Thankfully, unsubstantiated claims of being ‘eco friendly’ have not gone unnoticed by the authorities in place to protect consumers. In September 2021, the CMA has issued a new ‘Green Claims Code’ to give companies guidance on what they should – and more importantly – shouldn’t say when marketing their products as ‘green’.

The guidance encourages thorough checks into eco friendly claims and a further review into misleading claims both online and offline is due to begin in 20222 with a focus primarily on textiles & fashion, travel & transport, beauty products and cleaning products.

This is a positive step in the right direction for gaining transparency and offers reassurance to consumers that the information they are seeing is accurate, but consumers are still encouraged to do their own research and look at a company’s background if they want to ensure that what they are getting is as green in reality as it seems on the surface.

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References in this article

1 Global sweep finds 40% of firms’ green claims could be misleading – www.gov.uk

2 Greenwashing: CMA puts businesses on notice – www.gov.uk

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