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Stop greenwashing! Start reducing pollution

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By Ben Fielden, Community Manager, EMSOL

The last few years have seen a massive uptake in businesses prepared to lead the way in sustainability. Some 90% of the largest 500 companies by market cap in the Russell index published sustainability reports in 2019. This is driven by a range of new trends including legislation such as the UK Environmental Bill, Mandatory Climate Disclosures (which will require companies to report on their GHG emissions) and November’s COP26 – all creating a new sense of urgency.

There is also pressure from within companies, from shareholders and even employees; for example, Amazon employees joined the climate strike. Perhaps the biggest push is from customers (B2B and B2C) who are becoming environmentally-conscious buyers. Research shows 79% of customers say they are switching to businesses that promote social responsibility and sustainability.

In response, many electronics manufacturers are now promoting their products as “sustainable”, “environmentally-friendly” and other vague terms. This can help boost sales, but what happens when these claims are not backed by a real change, i.e., all talk, no action? Given there is such a huge incentive for businesses to present themselves as green and sustainable it should not come as a surprise that not all of these claims are backed by evidence of improvement. This is referred to as “greenwashing” – misleading consumers about a product or brand’s environmental credentials. In fact, the problem has become so bad that the UK’s Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) has released their anti-greenwashing code to tackle it.

The CMA found that 40% of green claims could be misleading. A similar effort is underway in Europe. The European Commission found that 42% of claims to be “green” were “exaggerated, false or deceptive with 59% failing to provide evidence”.

In 2021, issuing press releases and media statements about environmental commitments is not enough, and consumers are fast catching on. Nearly 50% of consumers say they do not have any information to verify retailers’ sustainability claims and, worse yet, 44% say they do not trust product sustainability claims.

There is also a range of issues in today’s electronics space that creates cynicism such as, planned obsolescence, making devices difficult to repair (cue in Apple products), and the upgrade cycle where technology becomes quickly outdated and devalued. These issues create tension even towards bold sustainability claims.

Ultimately, making unfounded claims can actually damage a business, from its reputation to even falling foul of the CMA’s new anti-greenwashing code.

This latest crackdown by the CMA and similar efforts in Europe are encouraging. It will only benefit manufacturers who are taking steps to improve their circular economy, reduce waste, cut down on packaging, and reducing emissions.

So, how can a company ensure it delivers on its sustainability promises? It is down to the evidence. Being able to scientifically prove and demonstrate a sustainability approach at all levels of the organisation is a way for businesses to meaningfully engage with their customers. This will create brand preference and even improve business efficiency and reduce costs. To achieve it, businesses need real-world evidence and data: evidencing improvements, testing new approaches, and establishing the practices that work.

“We have been working with some amazing companies who are desperate to get their hands on scientific data so they can start making a real impact. We are giving businesses opportunities to reduce pollution, identify what product is causing it, and our customisable reports easily and scientifically evidence their progress,” said Freddie Talberg, CEO and founder of EMSOL.

[Image: Michael Dziedzic for Unsplash]

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