Covid-19 Boosts Sustainability & Greenwashing

Covid-19 Boosts Sustainability & Greenwashing

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed consumers toward sustainability, with surveys finding a greater consumer effort to prioritize sustainable choices. At the same time, this increased consumer interest in sustainable products is increasing the incentive for some companies to greenwash – that is, to sell products with deceptive marketing that falsely implies sustainability.
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Covid-19 and Sustainability
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The outbreak of the novel coronavirus and the associated economic dislocation and disruption has had a marked effect on consumer attitudes | Learn more on Commonshare |: more and more people are seeking to change their priorities and emphasize sustainability | Learn more on Commonshare |.
Consumers Want Sustainability
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A World Economic Forum survey of more than 21,000 people in 28 countries found that nine out of 10 people surveyed want a “Great Reset”: they want the world to prioritize greener, more sustainable products | Learn more on Commonshare | with equitable social impacts.
At the same time, an Accenture and Consumer Pulse survey | https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-131/Accenture-COVID-19-Pulse-Survey-Wave7.pdf | has found that 82% of consumers surveyed say that they are making more sustainable choices.  
Setbacks and Challenges
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This said, the effects of the pandemic have also included some setbacks for the environment: face masks and shields, once used, are considered to be biohazardous waste. There has also been a piling on of microplastics that has encouraged consumers to ask for more sustainable packaging.
There are also indications that some companies are prioritizing strategies designed to help them get by, even if this has negative consequences for the planet. Marketing the putative benefits of a product may take pride of place over producing an actually sustainable product.
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Greenwashing
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Enter greenwashing, the branding practice of using catchwords and terms that sound environmentally friendly but are essentially meaningless.
As a case in point, H&M has drawn allegations of greenwashing with its Conscious Collection of 2019. The company marketed their organic cotton shirts, recycled polyester pants and Tencel jackets, but arguably fell short in explaining exactly what these materials were doing for the environment.
“It’s near impossible to single out a few brands for greenwashing, without letting others off the hook,” says Bronwyn Seier, a spokesperson from Fashion Revolution. The not-for-profit venture aims to hold the fashion industry accountable regarding their workers and supply chains.
Seier says that the real issue is “the fashion industry’s rampant unsustainability,” a problem she calls a systemic issue.
BMW

The problem is widespread in the fashion industry, but it is far from exclusive to it. For example, automobile giant BMW has been accused of greenwashing, by claiming that their electric cars were “zero-emission | https://www.marketingweek.com/asa-bans-bmw-ad-for-misleading-environmental-claims/ |,” when the reality was that they had smaller petrol engines than before.
Swatch
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And in June of 2020, watch brand Swatch relaunched its iconic 80s watch model with what it called “bio-material.” The strap was indeed made from bioplastic derived from castor seeds, but other parts used metal and silicon, both of which are not biodegradable.
Burger King
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In July of 2020, Burger King said that they would use meat from cows with 33% less methane by feeding them lemongrass. They failed to address the fact that the overall impact was projected to be a reduction of emissions by only 5-10%.
Rainforest Alliance
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Even the Rainforest Alliance, a non-profit with a mission statement dedicated to holding businesses accountable, has been sued over allegations of misleading marketing. They have also faced criticisms in their auditing practices for their environmental protection certification.
As consumers demand more environmentally and socially conscious products, more and more brands are realizing that there is an opportunity – either to greenwash, or to produce genuinely environmentally and socially friendly products.
With time, consumer pressure and backlash against greenwashing may push more companies to the latter option, though the temptation to cut corners is likely to be long-lasting.
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Greenwashing and Transparency
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“Greenwashing is often a way for companies who overproduce to shift attention away from their supply chains,” says 18-year-old environmental activist Gaia Rattazzi, an Italian student. She educates people about environmental consciousness through her Instagram page @Ssustainably_ | https://www.instagram.com/ssustainably_/?hl=en |.
Rattazzi believes that brands who want to engage in greenwashing will create elaborate campaigns promoting specific, more sustainable approaches – but will neglect to be completely transparent about their own supply chains.
However, in the long run Rattazzi is optimistic that the visibility of social media platforms will serve as an important tool of transparency. “Social media is also a great tool to ask these brands questions and hold them accountable,” she says.
 

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