Greenwashing Damages the Green Marketplace
This whole episode between Ecotricity vs EDF in the French nuclear giant's stealing of Ecotricity's Union Jack has brought a lot of focus to the whole issue of greenwashing again.
In the Facebook group, Green Britain Day, set up in reaction to EDF's £50 million Green Britain Day campaign, the group owner has urged those concerned with EDF's campaign to get in touch with the Advertising Standards Authority to object to EDF's use of Ecotricity's branding.
In addition, the objection particularly focuses on the fact that EDF are not British and are the world's largest corporate producer of nuclear waste, thus blowing the use of the Union Jack and the colour green to indicate environmental credentials clean out of the water.
Robin Smith of Host Universal, the man behind the alternative "Green Britain Day", has also pointed out that, according to Consumer Focus, the body that campaigns to get a fair deal for British consumers, company claims endanger the market for green goods.
The news comes as Consumer Focus produce a report into the public's understanding of green claims in advertising, Green Expectations (5.3Mb PDF), which points out that as many as two thirds of British consumers "cannot tell which products are better for the environment".
Two thirds of consumers say they are not sure how to tell if claims made by companies advertising green products – from household cleaners to cars and energy – are true. Only one in five people think it is not possible for companies to make false claims about their products’ environmental credentials.
That puts EDF firmly in the dock for making claims about being green, as Robin Smith notes in his own complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority;
EDF is causing confusion between low carbon energy (nuclear) and green energy (renewable).
The problem this causes for the genuine green market is, as Consumer Focus says;
When promoting green products or services, companies must ensure claims are clear and robust or widespread confusion will tip into cynicism, putting the whole market for the ‘green pound’ in danger
So the danger with the (estimated) £50 million "Green Britain" campaign is that it could "poison the well" of the British people's trust: firstly by tapping into their patriotism in the use of the British flag to promote Electricite De France and secondly by the use of the colour green to make people think they are buying into "green energy" when all they are really doing is being lulled into a false sense of security where EDF's end product is ultimately radioactive waste.
Pale corporate imitations of green and ethical brands or products are truly harmful. They distract consumers and divert spending from the real thing and they bring the risk of early onset ‘issue fatigue’.
Lucy Yates, sustainability expert at Consumer Focus, said:
Even now, when money is tighter than ever, people still want to buy products that are better for the environment. But they are being bombarded with complex and conflicting claims and do not know who or what to believe. Green must mean green, or consumers will switch off and simply turn their backs on sustainable choices. That would not only damage the environment but business too.
DEFRA's Green Claims Code needs to be updated. Updating the green claims code will protect consumers and ensure that big companies with lots of money and a heavily funded marketing department that has plans to take advantage of the public's desire for green & good products & services are not allowed to make false & misleading claims.
EDF should take note, except that they've already spent £50 million on trying to convince us they're green and acting in the interests of the British public. Oh, and Gordon Brown's brother, Andrew Brown, is the head of media at EDF.