Greenwashing

There has been a flurry of eco/ethical/organic posts on this blog of late, but nothing in comparison to miles of column inches in the press at present. I hope we aren’t overdoing it but the green issues that face the apparel and promotions industry are the most exciting thing to happen to it since someone decided to call a couple of pieces of cotton stitched together, in a ‘T’ shape, a t-shirt.

Of course it is not just our industry that is affected – the implications of eco-consciousness will reverberate throughout the triumvirate of politics, economics and sociology. If we agree that this movement is fundamental, it is perhaps inevitable that the PR and marketing people will look to utilise and manipulate the message for their own ends. I’m a capitalist, I realise that this is a probable consequence and see no hypocrisy in people both supporting the green movement and profiting from it. You may call it a win-win situation for the free market economy and the world.

I therefore disagree when I see statements in literature from one of our organic suppliers, Continental, stating:

‘We think it unethical to exploit ‘ethical trading’ as a marketing tool.’

Philip Charles, MD, Continental Clothing Company

‘Ethical trading’ will only grow if marketeers promote it and utilise it in their arsenal, and of course when Continental send us organic t-shirt samples and price lists, what are these to be called if they are not marketing tools used to promote sales and generate profits?

I do have a key caveat though, and in credit to them, I think this is what Continental really mean, and it is the concept of ‘Greenwashing‘, a pejorative term that critics use to describe the activity of giving a positive public image to putatively environmentally unsound practices. Talking with friends and colleagues, they can instantly name examples of this phenomenon: “Talk about that rubbish Shell ad with a man, his son and a straw,” said one unnamed source from the West-End (he is scared of the power of oil companies)!

Herein lies the problem. Greenwashing engenders cynicism, a dangerous by product of poorly conceived ethical marketing. To quote Whellams and MacDonald (2007):

“If consumers come to expect self-congratulatory ads from even the most environmentally backward corporations, this could render consumers sceptical of even sincere portrayals of legitimate corporate environmental successes. Thus well-meaning companies, companies committed to responsible behaviour with regard to the environment, have every reason to be critical of companies that greenwash.”

I think we are at a defining moment in this movement. When Selfridges and Hindmarch start doing what they are there is a risk that a pivotal point will be reached and this rapidly growing bubble will be deflated. In the mean time it may be worth investing in green tech stocks on AIM?

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3 Comments

  1. joe
    Posted 11/05/2007 at 3:55 pm | Permalink
    385

    I think the problem we have got to is as follows: if you spend 50p extra on a jar of fairtrade coffee, you actually expect there to be some measurable difference in the person that grows the coffee. After all, that is the whole point of the concept. So when you read something like this it is tempting to go and shout at a wall.

    You start to wonder if it would be more efficient to go and give the farmer 50p yourself.

    As has been pointed out on this blog before, the challenge for ethical clothing brands is to provide a promotional product that is high quality, sensibly priced and easily available. As well as being more ethical. Which is a tough cookie to crack.

    But I think it can be done – a certified and marked organic cotton product, with full transparency. This means that the consumer can go and find out exactly where the product she/he has in hand came from, when and where it was made, the conditions – maybe even how much people were paid. And at a price considerably more competitive than at present. This isn’t greenwashing or marketing, but a deliberate action to attempt to tell people about where their products came from. And I think they have a right to know that information in order to make an informed choice.

  2. Posted 09/06/2007 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
    386

    Funny to stumble acros my own words on your site.
    I actually started today online reading about green issues, notably searching for sustainable energy for my factory in Turkey.
    I agree with what Alex wrote above about my quote; in a wider context he is correct and I am incorrect, but it pleases me that he did understand what I really meant, which is that I do not like companies who blatently and massively inflate their actually almost non-existent green credentials, for example, B&B Leisurewear, who say on their website “B&B are fast becoming known as a major UK supplier of fairly traded, organic cotton clothing. As such, we are leading the way to address the issues of pollution and exploitation in the clothing industry.” Utter drivel.
    “That is why our Organic Cotton is 100% free from synthetic fertilisers, soil additives, defoliants and genetic modifications. Our refusal to use these will go some way to help restore the environmentís natural balance.”
    What about the other 95.5%? of their T-shirt sales which are not organic? They are not refusing to use synthetic fertilizers & pesticides on these, are they? Any T-shirt manufacturer that says how wonderful they are for selling a handfull of organic T-shirts while producing 100′s of thousands of conventional T-shirts is…, well you decide. Then there is the marketing tool “Sweatshop Free” which implies that everyone else makes their T-shirts in a sweatshop. It was this that I was particularly refering to with my quote. Companies who say they “pay above the minimum wage” or “above the national average”. Gosh, how kind.
    And don’t AA actually fly their T-shirts into Europe? More Co2 anybody?
    Sol’s now have organic t-shirts, and Fairtrade marked T-shirts, but not Organic Fairtrade T-shirts, which they should ideally be says PAN UK (Fairtrade, but still poisoning the farmers?); I did point this out to Alain this week at Fespa, and he agreed with me.
    I could continue writing for days, but I will not, just to say that there are infact many companies who conduct their business in a responsible way, and who have always done so, who do not make unrealistic and misleading claims. Perhaps it is those that shout the loudest about how good they are, without being transparent, that we should be asking the most questions about.

  3. Posted 22/05/2008 at 12:13 pm | Permalink
    389

    although this blog is a year old, i would like to point out as our dearest competitor continental clothing has a personal problem with our company , his views do not give you a proper realization of what he stands for, for someone who use to buy from us, what does this mean, was he selling unethical merchandice? B & B is the only company to be audited by both the Soil Assocition and the Fairtrade Foundation we have a completely transparent supply change, to give the consumer a choice of Fairtrade and normal shirt is a good thing, the whole production is ethical, at least we have not come up with a random idea of pretending to save the earth and using it as a marketing tool when in effect the cotton is not even 100% organic but it is conversion cotton, it seems that continental are afraid of someone being more committed to the environment than they are. Ranj Khara B & B Leisurewear

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