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a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

Archive for the ‘greenwashing’ Category

Letting Perception Get Ahead of Reality

Posted by Luke on October 6, 2010

I don’t deny that BP undoubtedly failed to take the proper precautions with their deep-water drilling activities.  But I also believe that BP’s downfall was exponentially worse due to their exceptional marketing efforts.  Beyond Petroleum. It was one of the most successful green rebranding campaigns in recent history.  A company that derived over 99% of their revenue from petroleum changed their brand to represent that they derive revenue from nothing but renewable sources.  They completely and utterly mislead consumers into thinking they were better than petroleum.

I admit it.  I was fooled.  Their advertisements of how they invested in renewable energy…  their contributions to social causes…  their green logo…  it seemed legit.  I didn’t do any research, but they were definitely saying the right things.  The problem, though, was that they let the perception of their brand get too far ahead of reality.  They were advertising nothing but green, but they were doing everything but green.

I’ve increasingly witnessed companies in my industry deploying similar tactics.  More than 99% of the products some of our competitors produce (by volume) are made from petroleum.  They are made from the oil that is derived from deep-water rigs.  And even while the nation watched oil gush into the Gulf, those companies continued green washing customers by touting their single green product line.  In fact, some even stepped up their green marketing during that time.  Most people prayed that the oil would stop gushing while these companies kept sucking oil from our earth’s core.

There’s one company in particular that has crossed the line in my mind.  I’ll refrain from stating the company’s name at this point (maybe in a future post I’ll take off my gloves).  This company recently launched a line of green products after 5 years of watching from the sidelines.  However, even while they launched these products, they still promoted their polystyrene foam products as being a great environmental choice.  They are talking out of both sides of their mouth.  They say two completely contradictory statements hoping that they’ll appeal to customers in some way, shape or form.

“We believe polystyrene foam has an excellent carbon footprint compared to PLA.  Buy foam if you want to be green.”

“We just launched a line of sustainable products made from PLA.  They meet the evolving needs of green customers and are less harmful on the environment.  Choose us when you want green”

I kid you not.  That is basically what that company is saying.  It’s shocking, really.  This reminds me of BP because they are letting perception get ahead of reality. They are promoting themselves as greener than they actually are. That won’t last forever though.

My advice to this, anonymous company:  Get 3rd party data that supports your claims.  Consumers aren’t going to allow themselves to be green washed forever.  We”ll let it happen once or twice, but we’ll get smart after that.  There’s a new wave of green coming.  And that wave involves a deeper understanding of what green actually is and making sure companies back up their claims.  Get ready for Green 2.0.  I’ll talk more about that in a future post.

 



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Posted in brand loyalty, BS, environmental products, foodservice, greenwashing, management, marketing, Pactiv | 1 Comment »

Sustainability In Flight, Literally

Posted by Luke on September 22, 2010

The concept of sustainability has evolved drastically over the past several years.  At first, only the eco pioneers embraced sustainability initiatives.  They felt it was the right thing to do.  Then, consumers started asking companies to be more environmental.  In response, corporations began implementing surface-level sustainability initiatives without any real roots.  This evolved into companies realizing that robust sustainability programs can actually save energy which means lower costs.  All the while, consumers have continued demanding companies to go green, but now they really mean it.  Companies need to do more than implement just surface-level green tactics.

This evolution has led many companies to launch green product lines.  It has also spurred the launch of entire companies that make nothing but green products.  Now in nearly every industry, consumers can find at least one company that is completely and totally dedicated to sustainability, a company that doesn’t offer conventional products.  Method offers nothing but non-toxic cleaners.  Credo Mobile has built a mobile phone service based on the triple bottom line.  The Green Garage only offers environmental car repair services.  New Leaf Paper only makes high recycled content paper.  Eco-Products only makes environmental packaging.  And the list goes on… except for one industry.

The one major industry that has still not yet demonstrated that they embrace sustainability in the least bit is the airline industry.  One of my biggest pet peeves is when a flight attendant walks down the aisle to gather the trash at the end of the flight and everything goes into one bag.  The cans, the plastic bottles, the newspapers and the garbage all gets sent to a landfill.  I start twitching when I see it happen.

Airplanes are like national forest land.  You have to pack out what you pack in if you want to recycle.

In 2005, 86% of the U.S. population had access to curbside recycling programs.  That means that all of those flight attendants who throw recyclables in the trash probably recycle at home, or at least have access to recycling. However, collectively, they have failed to find a way to recycle in-flight waste even though most airports now recycle in the terminals.  It doesn’t make sense to me.  Isn’t it illegal to throw plastic bottles into the trash in some states like North Carolina and others?  How do airlines get away with it?

Sadly, recycling is the easiest way to be green, but it still doesn’t occur.  Time Magazine had a great article on in-flight recycling with some pretty astounding stats:

  • The average amount of waste generated per passenger per flight is 1.3 lbs
  • 58 Boeing 747’s could be built each year from the aluminum cans discarded by U.S. airlines

And recycling is just the tip of the iceberg.  With as much fuel as the industry burns, wouldn’t you think that they’d work harder to find more environmental and cost-effective alternatives like biofuels?  Yet, it hasn’t happened.  The only group working on biofuels to my knowledge is Alaska Airlines and they already have the most fuel efficient fleet.  Way to go Alaska!

In most industries you have companies trying to green wash consumers to win them over.  Not in the airline industry.  You don’t even find airlines trying to green wash consumers.  Does that mean that they just don’t care at all?  It doesn’t appear they are taking any steps to become more sustainable.  Southwest is the only airline I’ve seen with a clearly stated sustainability program.  Good job LUV.

The entrepreneur in me is wondering if this presents an opportunity.  Consumers have demonstrated that they’ll pay more for products that are sustainable.  Would they pay more for an airline that demonstrates sustainability?  Would you fly a certain airline more if their sustainability values were in line with yours?  Better yet, if there was an airline dedicated to nothing but green – call it the Seventh Generation of the airline industry – would you pay more to fly with them?

I guess until that hypothetical green airline is launched, all we have to work with is this solar plane.  I bet they recycle.

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, management, recycling, sustainability | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

Keep It Simple with Signs

Posted by Luke on September 11, 2010

How do people tell the difference between compostable and non-compostable products when they are trying to figure out which bin to throw something in?  They look and feel virtually the same.  If the products aren’t embossed or printed with the word “compostable”  on them, people can’t tell.  And even if “compostable” is embossed, there’s no guarantee that the products meet compostability certification.

For some time now, I’ve been involved in this seemingly never-ending debate about establishing labeling guidelines for compostable products.  Some people have suggested that products should have a green stripe or band.  I haven’t come around on that idea.  Until someone can convince me otherwise, it’s not cost-effective, can’t be done on all product shapes and materials, and will ultimately drive up product costs while simultaneously lowering composting rates (composting programs are more successful when packaging/products are included).  Also, it doesn’t solve the problem of companies falsely claiming that their products are compostable.  That’s where laws help…

The State of California is trying to pass a bill to make it illegal for companies to claim compostability if their products don’t meet ASTM standards.  HALLELUIAH!  We’re finally starting to make some  progress.  Companies will be held accountable for their claims.  No one wants to answer to Arnold.  Actually, I take that back,

Getting back to figuring out what is compostable and what isn’t, I came across a great idea about using 3-D signs to help out consumers.  In his post, Dinesh Thirupuvanam talks about the effectiveness of using simple, visual displays to help improve waste diversion.  One route is to have a poster with pictures of the products that should be composted, but a much more effective route is to create a 3-dimensional sign in which customers see the products in real life and know what bin to put them it.  I’m a visual person, so this is a great solution for me, much better than a normal, flat poster.  What a simple, yet effective solution.

If only these could be produced on a larger scale… Shoot me an email (lvernon at ecoproducts.com) if you think you can produce these signs on a large scale for Eco-Products.  I’d love to be able to give them to our customers.

Posted in compostable, compostable products, composting, greenwashing, logistics, recycling | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Clorox Dubunked; Vote Daisy

Posted by Luke on August 24, 2010

A few months ago, Clorox’s lawyers sent a friendly note to Method telling them that they were infringing on Clorox’s trademark of a daisy that they use in the graphics design of their Green Works cleaning products line.  Essentially, Clorox argues that they own the rights to using a daisy when it’s used to promote green cleaners.  Method has also used the daisy for quite a while, and wasn’t intentionally trying to leverage Green Works’ brand equity… because apparently Clorox has so much of it considering they just entered the category.

This is a classic example of a major corporation being threatened by a new entrant and then throwing money at lawyers to try to drive the smaller guy out, or at least make them spend some money.  And I take that back about Method being the new entrant.  They’ve been selling green cleaning products longer than Clorox.  They created the category alongside of Seventh Generation, Biokleen, and ECOS.  They are the reason why Clorox launched their Green Works line.  Method was stealing their market share from Clorox’s conventional, toxic products.

What is silly about Clorox’s approach to me is that they are trying to promote themselves as a green company, even greener than Method.  What they fail to state in their “friendly note” or in their marketing materials is that 99% of the products they sell are made from toxic chemicals and have nothing natural about them.  So, it’s really up for consumers to decide.  Do you fall for Clorox’s marketing tricks?  Do you support a company who does nothing but green (Method), or a company who does nothing but 1% green (Clorox)?

Method took this battle to the street to encourage consumers to speak up about who owns the daisy.  They launched a viral campaign (see www.votedaisy.com) in which people can vote for who should own the daisy… and they aren’t saying that Method should own it.  They think Mother Nature should own the daisy.  Now that’s brilliant marketing.  Checkout the video…

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, imitators, marketing | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Role of “Radical Transparency” in Sustainability

Posted by Luke on August 4, 2010

I’ve written a lot about how everyone defines sustainability differently.  Jeffrey Hollender, the Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation, addressed this topic at the World Innovation Forum in June.  “You can’t judge your own level of sustainability or responsibility, you can only be judged by others,” Hollender said.  To demonstrate this, Seventh Generation published a list on their website of everything that was bad about their products.  They felt that being completely transparent was the best way to make improvements over the long run.  They saw this transparency pay off because it caused their customers to ask Seventh Generation’s competitors for their respective lists, of which they didn’t have.

Although at Eco-Products we haven’t yet published a list of what is bad about our products, it’s probably in our near future.  We have attempted to take a similar approach to Seventh Generation in being transparent, and we are investing more than we ever have in understanding the entire environmental impact of our products from cradle to grave.  We acknowledge that we aren’t perfect.  After all, “perfect” sustainability is subjective and is a never-ending journey.  However, we are diligent about lessening our impact and being transparent with our customers along the way.  In fact, we created a new position at our company called a Sustainability Maven to continuously assess how our decisions impact the environment.  And we are investing in many other ways to better communicate our impact to our customers.  The key question that every business person has to ask, “Do customers care and will they put their money behind it?”  Based on my experience in the natural products industry, my response is an absolute “Yes.”

Posted in brand loyalty, Eco-Products, environmental products, footprint, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Half-Ass Hotel Greening Efforts

Posted by Luke on July 27, 2010

It’s surprising that the hotel industry doesn’t put forth more effort to be sustainable.  There are very few hotels that have sustainability as part of their core philosophy.  The Boulder Outlook Hotel is an exception.  They compost or recycle over 80% of their waste.  I only wish Boulder Outlook’s existed across the country.

Today I’m in Indiana staying in a major national hotel chain.  I walked into the lobby to check in and had an empty water bottle in my hand from the flight.  It’s 90+ degrees and humid in Indy.  I asked the front desk employee if he could recycle the bottle for me.  He looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “No, but I can throw it away for you.”  Here I am, in the heartland of middle-America, and they don’t recycle.

I get to my room and walk into the bathroom.  There I find a typical water conservation sign.

Is this sign really necessary?  Hotels like this aren’t trying to be green by conserving water.  They’re trying to save money and reduce labor expenses.  Let’s call it what it is and stop green washing guests.

I look around and see they have plastic-wrapped polystyrene cups.  On one side of the sink they are asking me to save the planet by conserving water.  On the other side they are offering non-recyclable polystyrene cups and refusing to recycle something as simple as a water bottle.

How hard would it be to put a blue bin in the room next to the trash can?  It should be illegal to not offer recycling as I mentioned in a previous post.  I’ve only found two hotels in my entire life that offer in-room recycling – the Boulder Outlook Hotel and the Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs, CO.

Sheraton Resort in Steamboat Springs

If anyone knows of a resource to locate green hotels and review them on their green efforts, please let me know.

Posted in Boulder, greenwashing, recycling, sustainability, zero waste | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Are Consumers Also Green Washers?

Posted by Luke on June 21, 2010

I read an article today that challenged consumers to put their money where their mouth is.  It was the first time I have heard someone call consumers more of green washers than companies. The article tries to explain how consumers in surveys claim they are buying more green products and are willing to spend more money on brands that are sustainable, but the reality is that they aren’t following through with their wallets.

On one hand, it’s an interesting argument and point to discuss.  On the other hand, I don’t buy it.  I don’t think people are green washers as individuals.  If my neighbor tells me about the energy efficient windows he just installed, I’m excited for him and also inspired by him. I don’t think for a second that he’s green washing me.  Why would he care to do that?  He has no reason to.

For companies, though, they have images to uphold.  Their products have to be better priced, higher quality, more trendy, longer lasting, more advanced, and greener than their competitors.  They have to pit themselves against other brands in a bloody-red ocean of competition and advertising noise.  They have to find some way to stand out.  And the way to stand out is often to be more green than their competitors.  For this reason, I undoubtedly think companies are more susceptible to green washing than consumers.  Consumers don’t have anyone to compete with.  Have you ever tried to out-green your next-door neighbor with the hopes of appealing more to the neighbor across the street?  No.

Believe it or not, some companies are becoming more green because they truly care about the planet.  The employees that are implementing those sustainability initiatives at those companies actually want to make a positive impact with their company’s resources.  Not to mention that having a strong sustainability program has been proven to increase employee engagement.  A large survey by Brighter Planet found that 80% of U.S. workers polled believe it’s important to work for a company that makes the environment a top priority.  What company wouldn’t want more employee engagement and greater satisfaction?

The unfortunate part in all of this, however, is that companies will continue to feel compelled to overstate their greenness.  It continues to be a deciding factor in some consumers’ buying decisions.  As such, green will continue to be a product or brand attribute that companies advertise, whether accurate or not.

Posted in brand loyalty, greenwashing, marketing, sustainability | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

You Can Copy Products, But You Can’t Copy What a Company Stands For

Posted by Luke on May 11, 2010

Eco-Products’ largest competitor, the largest company in our industry, just launched a line of products that look exactly like ours.  I don’t think I could have ripped off our design more closely if I tried.  It’s shocking, honestly.  It’s weird they didn’t get a little more creative.

On one hand, I can’t help but ask our lawyer a few questions.  On the other hand, I’m flattered that a $3.5 billion Fortune 500 company would copy a small, Boulder company so precisely… or at least try to.

You see, green is all we’ve ever done.  Eco-Products has been around for 20 years as the first business-to-business distributor solely of environmental products.  We have one of the largest solar systems in Colorado.  We have nearly eliminated all waste from our office building.  We offset the emissions from the transportation of our products.  We give our employees $1,200 every year if they ride their bike, bus, carpool, or drive a hybrid to work.  We constantly challenge ourselves to be more sustainable.

We don’t do these things because we have to.  We do them because we think it’s the right thing to do.  Regulators aren’t asking us to be more green.  Sustainability is in our DNA.  It’s who we are.  It’s what we believe.  It’s all we know.  That can’t be copied.

Eco-Products is so much more than just our products.  We are an industry change agent.  We are a belief system for our customers.  We are giving voice to more corporate responsibility.  We are greening an industry that’s sole purpose is to create waste, to create landfills.  We are trying to reduce waste.  Sounds counter-intuitive, right?

Eco-Products 12 oz World Art Hot Cup

Imitation cup (picture distorted the color; all cup sizes match exactly except for the lines on the globe)

99.9% of the competitor’s revenue I referred to above comes from products that have no place to be disposed of but in landfills.  Their business is built on waste.  Doing anything differently would jeopardize their core business.  Sustainability isn’t part of their DNA. In fact, they were ranked in the bottom 20th percentile of the Fortune 500 for “green performance” according to Newsweek.  They were ranked below all but 4 of the 31 oil and gas companies.

They have sat on the sidelines for years watching Eco-Products and others build a market for green products and now they want a piece of the action.  They could have entered the game long ago.  But they didn’t.  It wasn’t in their values.  Now they want a green story to tell Wall Street.

How will Eco-Products react?  We’ll continue doing what we’re doing.  We’ll continue being a change agent for the positive.  We’ll raise the bar for sustainability.  We’ll out innovate them.  We’ll develop even better performing, more environmental products faster.  And we’ll let our customers’ loyalty speak for itself.  Our competitor can throw money at our distributors to get them to switch to their products.  The restaurants, coffee shops, universities, and other customers who currently buy Eco-Products will continue demanding our brand.  They want something more than just our products.  They want something bigger to believe in.  They want to be part of something positive.  That’s why we do what we do.

Posted in brand loyalty, Eco-Products, greenwashing, hot cups, imitators, Landiflls, packaging, sustainability, World Art Cups | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tips for Avoiding Green Washing

Posted by Luke on April 15, 2010

As a follow up to my earlier post on taking action against manufacturers who mislead consumers, here are some steps businesses can take to make sure they don’t end up in similar situation that Georgia-Pacific is in by falsely advertising their products.

If you want more info, these steps came directly from an article called 8 Tips to Acing Green Guidelines.

  1. Be specific in your claims. Claims such as sustainable, recyclable, natural, and compostable should all have qualifying statements.  Check with this guide on the Federal Trade Commission’s website for clarification on how to correctly use potentially vague and subjective terms.
  2. Provide proof from third parties. Having a third party such as an independent research firm, trade association, industry institute, or other valid unbiased group helps prevent misinterpretation and misleading of consumers.
  3. Check to see that compliance certificates are up-to-date. If you claim your products are compliant with an industry standard or other governing body, make sure the compliance docs are current.
  4. Provide supporting documentation for heavy metals limits and other ingredient claims. This documentation can be from an independent testing laboratory.
  5. Be aware of your state’s renewable energy resources. If you are making a claim about your energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, check with your state to ensure you are taking into account the correct type of energy source.  This can have a big impact on your numbers.
  6. Be clear with recycling, biodegradation, and compostability claims. Make sure your products pass ASTM D6400 and D6868 tests and are certified by a third party such as the Biodegradable Products Institute.
  7. Be specific with source-reduction claims. Statements such as “uses less material” or “creates less waste” aren’t descriptive enough.  To avoid misleading consumers and getting in trouble with the FTC, make sure the statements indicate what the comparison is to – i.e. “uses 20% less material than XYZ product.”
  8. Ensure statistical differences of 15% or more. To really have a better product, the test results should indicate a statistically significant result than your comparison product.  Using 15% as that statistical difference will help keep you out of trouble.

Posted in green guidelines, greenwashing, marketing | Leave a Comment »

Taking Action Against Companies Who Mislead Consumers

Posted by Luke on April 12, 2010

As a consumer, I often take product claims for granted assuming they are true and accurate.  After all, consumers shouldn’t have to validate product claims, right?  It’s unethical for companies to lie.  And it’s largely impractical for consumers to research claims at the point of selecting products which typically occurs in store aisles.

Unfortunately, false advertising is everywhere.  That’s particularly true as companies try to market any potential green attribute a product may have, even if it’s misleading.  That’s increasingly been the case in the foodservice packaging industry.

I recently came across a prime example of a false advertisement by a Fortune 100 company.   Georgia-Pacific, a multi-billion dollar manufacturer of some very well known consumer products, is claiming that their Dixie PerfecTouch hot cups are compostable.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Catalog

PerfecTouch cups have a thick coating of polyethylene on the outside for insulation purposes.  The cups do not meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) standards for compostability, nor are the cups approved by the Biodegradable Products Institute.

It’s sad that companies like this feel they have to misrepresent their products to appeal to consumers.  Consumers should know what we’re getting and get what we pay for.

Here are a couple ways to get companies like this to stop falsely advertising their products:

  • Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission on the FTC website
  • File a complaint with the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.  This route is meant more for businesses to file complaints against other businesses and can be very effective.
  • Complain directly to the company misleading consumers
  • Blog.  If you know the facts, engage a discussion online
  • Tell retailers.  They are liable for misleading consumers as well if they don’t validate the claims of the  products they carry

Screenshot From GP's Website

Posted in compostable, foodservice, greenwashing, marketing | 2 Comments »

 
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