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EP14: Greenwashing, what is it and what does it mean to your company?

In the second-part of our podcast with Iona Silverman, Al and Iona discuss the interesting topic of Greenwashing. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound. Greenwashing involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly […]

26th Jul 2023
EP14: Greenwashing, what is it and what does it mean to your company? 26th July 2023

In the second-part of our podcast with Iona Silverman, Al and Iona discuss the interesting topic of Greenwashing. Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound. Greenwashing involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do. Did you know only 1 complaint is needed for an investigation to be launched? 

Al: Hi, welcome to another Infinity Nation podcast. Today I have Iona Silverman with me from Freight and Iona and I are going to talk through the contentious or potentially contentious topic of greenwashing. Iona, welcome, thank you for your time. 

Iona:Hello, nice to be here. 

Al: Yeah, so greenwashing, it’s an interesting topic I think to discuss and one for all, for all businesses looking at marketing. I suppose from my side as a marketeer, what can I, can’t I say, and you help me stay on the straight and narrow and keep me away from the ASA. So yeah, tell me a bit more about you, your role at Fareed’s.

Iona: So I’m an intellectual property lawyer, but as part of that I do a lot of advertising and marketing work. So I advise on the whole gamut of laws as they apply to advertising and marketing. So I work with marketing teams to help them shape their campaigns to just make sure that if they’ve got any concerns, they’re trying to mitigate the risks as they go, rather than once the campaign is live. So it could be on sort of, you know, advertising gambling products or alcohol products, or it could be advertising to children, or it could be working with influencers. And what I’m doing a lot of at the moment is helping marketing teams with green claims, because as you say, it’s a pretty hot topic for the ASA.

Al: Why is that? Why is it such a hot topic for the ASA at the moment?

Iona: And I think it’s because everyone wants to shout about how green they are, because that’s what the political agenda is driving. You know, we’re hearing it from all angles in the news. Everyone needs to be doing better by the environment. And it’s what consumers want. They want to be buying green products. decisions. And the ASA is super keen that actually whilst everyone is doing that and pushing that agenda and while that is a good thing, that consumers aren’t being misled in the process.

Iona: And are there any good examples recently of people where have misled? What is a recent example of where someone may have done some greenwashing?

Al: Yeah, absolutely. So the ASA is hot on this. There are quite a lot of decisions on it. But. Relates to Shell. So Shell, big energy company, they have a big green renewables division and they had an advertising campaign that related to that. The advertising campaign was actually very detailed and it said exactly how they were producing renewables and what cost savings they translated to. And they substantiated that with a lot of data. So they had national grid data. They did all the things you would expect a big company to do in trying to substantiate those claims and be clear to consumers. However, the ASA still said that the campaign was misleading. The reason they said that is because whilst Shell do have a big renewables division, they also obviously have a massive fossil fuels division, and they make a lot of money from fossil fuels, and that division is not shrinking. So they’ve got plans to expand fossil fuels, and the And the ASA, the Advertising Standards Authority, said that it was misleading to consumers because they would look at the Shell advert and think, oh, great, Shell’s really green, when in fact, yes, some of what Shell’s doing is really green, but you have to take it as a whole and consumers might not see that. So that’s probably the most recent example, and it is very interesting because I think it shows that if you’re going to make green claims, you really have to not only substantiate them, but think about how they impact the whole of your supply chain, the whole of your business.

Iona: I think that’s a really interesting example. They’re not in my best books at the moment, Shell Energy, because I had some solar panels fitted, and due to their own processing time of paperwork, apparently I won’t start receiving any income from my solar panels until almost a year after they were installed. So, yeah, I just beg this belief.

Al: It’s consumers trying to do the right thing and wanting to do the right thing, and the ASA rightly is just trying to make sure that companies who are delivering those services actually aren’t over promising and over selling.

Iona: But on the flip side, I suppose, from commerciality point of view, if Shell didn’t have its fossil fuel entity, and the same with the car industry, would or could they afford the infrastructure and the investment to migrate or move some of this into that scenario. Could Shell be investing in PV, you know, wind turbines, whichever, without the fossil fuel funding that migration?

Al: Yeah, I think that’s a really good question. And I think, obviously, energy companies, like you said, the automotive industry, they’re massive industries. They are not going to turn around overnight and be clean. They’ve got a road ahead of them and they are on that journey to become it, to investing in greener and better technology. It’s about how they communicate that to the public. So it’s about communicating it in such a way that they explain that yes, they’re on that journey, yes, they’re trying to be more green, but explain the steps that they’re taking. So the ASA also banned an ad from another energy company called Petronas the week before last on a similar basis, because they said, you know, we’re on a journey, we’re going to be, I think it was, you know, net zero by carbon neutral by 2050. But actually, when you dug into it, it wasn’t clear how they were doing that. And actually, they still had big plans in the fossil fuel sector. So I think it’s just about being clear and showing the whole picture really.

Iona: Is it defined what going green is? Because, you know, I don’t know, maybe I’m out there on it, but you know, I still have a view that maybe a second-hand car that already exists, that has numerous spare parts already made, may be greener than having a brand new electrical car made, high carbon footprint, and how is the current electricity made to fuel said electric car?

Al: I have exactly the same questions as you, and I really wish someone would tell me the answer. I wish someone could say to me, this is what you need to do, because there are so many factors that play into all of these decisions, and that’s why the companies need to be being clear. But it’s a good point as well because there are words that are bandied around like green and sustainable and eco, but what do they actually mean? And that’s why when you’re making green claims, you need to be quite specific and you need to say, you know, this product is recyclable. If you say that, the entirety of the product needs to be recyclable, all the parts. Or, you know, this product was made using X percentage renewable energy. You have to be quite specific. Saying this product is sustainable doesn’t really mean anything and it’s not going to cut it these days.

Iona: Well, even to the point now where you see these electric cars and they have a green stripe on the number plate, so the DVLA are deeming, is that not green washing a car? Yeah. It’s an extreme version out there, but is it just because it’s, you know, what’s substantiate that green bar being on there?

Al: Absolutely. No, well, maybe the ASA will come down on it, particularly now you’ve pointed it out, because up until now, companies have used the colour green to denote the eco version of their product. They haven’t necessarily said in so many words that that’s what they’re doing. So you could argue that actually it’s just a choice of color. It means nothing. And they’re not making any claim at all. But I think as a consumer, if you see green, you think, well, that’s the green version of that product. And there haven’t been any ASA decisions on that exact topic, but I suspect we’ll see one.

Al: Yeah. So we all want the planet to survive and stay on longer and for the next generations, that’s absolutely key. In addition to that, in your view, or from the clients you’re dealing with, what is the benefit to them in terms of putting more time, and it is time and effort, into being green or greener?

Iona: I think it’s consumer demand. I think consumers really are pushing this agenda and they want to buy green products. And I think we’re moving from a place where green products were seen as more expensive and a little bit out there to a place where actually they are mainstream. And when all the big energy companies have got green arms and when every product you buy, I bought a dishwasher recently and so high on my list was how efficient is it? What are the energy savings? As a consumer, you want to know the answer to those questions. So I think, you know, that’s what’s driving this.

Iona: It’s the greener way of not washing up.

Al: Yeah.

Iona: I would say that you’ve got the machine to be made and depending on your book, how is it delivered? You know, this is what I think is really interesting. So I’ve become a corporate consumer-led business, but I still have to use a courier to deliver my products. And those couriers at the moment are still, you know, are we making the most of the railways? Could we, are there, yeah, so I think there’s a whole infrastructure change that could be or might need to be done in that scenario. Okay, so from a brand point of view, I would agree with you. I think it’s positive on brand positioning, although I imagine it’s generational. And I don’t know if you’re seeing anything like that.

Al: Is that?

Iona: Yeah, and this is what a slightly sort of swathing comment, but I imagine it’s more towards the younger demographic where this is a really important scenario and maybe not so much towards the older generation, but that would just be my assumption. I don’t know if you’ve got any view on that.

Iona: I think that’s right. And I also think that there’s a minority who will pay more for green products, but the majority want to make the right decisions but also want the cheapest product. So what they’re looking for really is mainstream products at mainstream prices but with the green tag. And that’s again where the ASA comes in because if what you’re doing is, you know, you’ve put a lot of thought and effort into making your product green and that means it costs a bit more and you’re marketing it as such, then that’s one thing. But if you are actually a very mainstream product but you’re just popping some labels on trying to make it appeal more to people when in fact it hasn’t changed very much or you haven’t put a lot of effort and energy into making it green then you aren’t potentially misleading. It’s slightly contradictory though

Al: If they want mainstream product but want them to be green is it not about so that’s more about them feeling good that they feel they’ve done the right thing?

Iona: Yeah, and appealing to consumers, I think. If what they have done is given a lot of thought to make their product green, and they’re explaining how they’ve done that, then that’s fine. So a couple of examples. Unilever sell Persil, and a while ago, they had a campaign in which they said that Persil was kinder to the planet. And, you know, the whole campaign was imagery of environmentally good things. And the ASA said, well, how is it kinder to the planet? And Unilever said, well, it’s made of more recycled plastic bottles. The plastic bottle is made of more recycled plastic and you can wash your clothes on a lower heat wash and it will still get them clean. So no need to increase the temperature and no need to rewash. So on that basis, it’s kinder to the planet. So Unilever had given thought as to how this product was kinder to the planet and they had, you know, some things to justify that claim. But the ANSA said the claim is too broad. You know, kinder than what? Kinder than your previous product? Kinder than a competitor product? What about the rest of the supply chain? That claim is too broad. So it’s just about making sure that if you are making claims, they are specific to the changes that you have made to your product and it’s clear what you’ve done.

Iona: Example because using that, how can I be a green business but my products are made in China and shipped? How does that work? So, shortly, going back to the point earlier about people wanting mainstream products at normal price, but if I’m truly green, if I’m saying, I make a cashmere jumper, I get, you know, it’s made with British wool, it’s made in Scotland or wherever, it’s made in Scotland or wherever, low carbon miles, but it’s going to be more expensive because the scale on which manufacturing


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