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The Great Unwashed | Understanding the Green Claims Code

Tue 25 Jan 2022 | 06:49 am GMT
Rob Hutchins | Products of Change Writer

The UK Gov has launched the Green Claims Code to help fight greenwashing

Late last year, the UK government introduced its Green Claims Code to help end greenwashing within the marketing sphere. The problem? It’s left us more questions than answers. Here, Products of Change offers its advice on avoiding the greenwash trap this year This article - written by Products of Change - appears in this month's issue of Total Licensing. Click here to read its original format.
It was at CES in Las Vegas at the start of the month that the climate tech company, Dayrize unveiled a new piece of technology that assesses the environmental impact of a consumer product to give it a sustainability rating out of 100. Imagine a calorie counter for your t-shirt, the system is designed to make the measurement of sustainability accessible for brands and companies of all sizes, while putting the choice of shopping sustainably in the hands of the customer. It’s a piece of kit that could revolutionise the consumer products space and eradicate all known issues around greenwashing for good. Adopting a slightly less dynamic and a wholly more ambiguous approach, the British government – towards the end of last year – finally issued a set of guidelines developed to help remove greenwashing from the marketing materials of companies and brands across the country. The problem with the 13-step Green Claims Code is, however, it’s left us with a lot more questions than it has provided answers. A system reliant on the interpretation of businesses and individuals all now eyeing the next ‘global megatrend’, it is, in short, an approach most fallible. Yet, putting an end to greenwashing is simply something we must get right, and as an industry based on trust between brand, customer, and end user, nowhere is it more important that we do so, than within toys. Wait a minute, what is greenwashing? It’s a term that has crept into the modern day lexicon over recent months and years as a means of highlighting and calling out the numerous misleading claims that often arise in marketing spiel, all regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. Maria Jose Monteagudo Arrebola, Sustainability Subject Matter Expert for the EMEA region of UL, the toy auditing platform, tells Products of Change: “Greenwashing is an age-old and tangent communication problem on which the European Commission took a stand in January 2021 when it published the results of a study of 344 claims reported by company websites. “The result was depressing. It found that 42 per cent were exaggerated, false, or misleading. And what they found was concerning – that in more than half of the reviewed cases, the trader did not provide sufficient information to clam the accuracy of the green claim.” The study found that in almost 40 per cent of cases, marketers used words like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘conscious’ – the kind of terminology that has long been advised against by the likes of the US Federal Trade Commission and the UK Competition and Markets Authority. OK, so the Green Claims Code is here to help stamp out the issue? The Green Claims Code, to summarise for anyone who has not yet had the pleasure, dictates that claims made about products must be: truthful and accurate, clear and unambiguous, must not omit or hide important, relevant information, consider the full life cycle of the product or service, and must be substantiated. If you can say yes to each of these, then please proceed to the next level. Except, it’s not quite that simple. According to the circular economy expert and Products of Change Advisor, Arthur Parry, there really is only one good test for anyone looking to check for greenwashing in their own communication, and it’s to ask yourself one thing: Do I fully understand the environmental benefit claimed, and could I defend this if called upon to do so? “You may claim that ‘all our plastic toys are now made with bio-sourced material from renewable resources’,” says Parry. “However, if there’s a second half of this statement that would say: ‘but since demand has now increased for the crop from which the material is derived, deforestation in the area concerned has accelerated’, then clearly we do not have a good outcome.” At the same time, Parry urges companies heading into 2022 with a renewed vigour for delivering sustainability by the bucket load – and good on them! – to watch out for the potential for misunderstanding of exactly what is being claimed. “A statement like ’70 per cent recycled content’ can easily be misinterpreted,” he says. “For example, on what basis has the level of recycled content been calculated? If it’s an annualised mass balance, then it’s entirely possible that the individual item being purchased contains no recycled content at all…” But you want to do the right thing. So, what can you do instead? We get it, it seems like a nightmare. How do you navigate the ambiguity that the Green Claims Code appears to have left in its wake? Well, according to Parry, the answer is far less complex than the question makes it appear. “Key to real sustainability is to look for systematic solutions,” he says. “The kind that aim to eliminate sources of waste or emissions by design; then make your verifiable claims based on these. “It also lies in clarity. Be clear on your transitional interventions. For example, when talking about activities to offset existing sources of waste, explain how this is something you are doing while looking for longer term solutions. “Finally, identify areas in which you can act to ensure that materials remain in use (ideally at their highest value state) and avoid them entering the waste stream. This could be in the form of return schemes, partnerships in the resale market, or schemes that ensure materials are returned for remanufacture. “This sort of activity can also generate extremely compelling claims, and even lead to cost optimisation and additional sources of revenue.” Alternatively, of course, you can always drop the Products of Change Advisors team a line on advisors@productsofchange.com and think of them as your own sustainability personal trainers. It could be your answer to counting those sustainability calories this year.
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