What is Greenwashing?
“Greenwashing is the practice of making an unsubstantiated or misleading claim about the environmental benefits of a product, service, technology or company practice.”
Common inaccuracies about print and paper are still a major issue for the industry. These misconceptions are further reinforced by financial organisations, utility companies and many other service providers, as they increasingly encourage their customers to switch to electronic bills and statements. But instead of focusing on the potential cost savings of digital, often the incentive to switch is based on unfounded environmental claims such as “Go Green – Go Paperless” and “Choose e-billing and help save a tree”.
These messages are unsubstantiated, misleading and can have a lasting effect on consumer perceptions of paper.
What are the rules on environmental claims?
According to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), marketing claims must be clear, truthful, accurate and not misleading. Marketers must base environmental claims on the full life cycle of the advertised product, unless the marketing communication states otherwise, and must make clear the limits of the life cycle. Marketers must ensure claims that are based on only part of the advertised product’s life cycle do not mislead consumers about the product’s total environmental impact.
What do consumers think about these claims?
Financial organisations, utilities, telecoms and governments are increasingly encouraging their customers to go “paperless”. But switching to digital is not always welcome as many consumers value paper-based communication.
A survey conducted by Two Sides in 2019 found that 78% of consumers believe they should have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronically) from their service providers. A further 62% believe they should not be charged more for choosing paper bills or statements and 76% believe they have the right to revert to paper options after choosing digital
According to Keep Me Posted 7 million people in the UK can’t use the Internet, even if they wanted to: because of poverty, disability and rurality. There are over 10.5 million people who lack the confidence to use the Internet for transactions. Together that is nearly 1 in 5 of the British population.
Two Sides actively engages organisations found to be using unsubstantiated environmental claims about the use of paper. To date, over 70% of companies engaged by Two Sides have changed or removed misleading messages.
For all customer facing copy, it is important to avoid making any unsubstantiated claims regarding switching from paper to electronic formats.
– Brendan McNamara, Head of NGO Engagement, HSBC
We are conscious of our overall environmental impact and want to support our customers reduce their impact and want to support our customers reduce their impact too. We do, however, appreciate the environmental impact is complex, and definitely don’t want our communications to be misleading.
– Severn Trent
What to do if you find misleading claims
Two Sides continues to actively challenge major organisations found to be misleading consumers by using environmental claims about the use of paper. However, we need the help of our eagle-eyed supporters! Keep your eyes peeled for other examples of Greenwash and report them to us.
Please send any instances of greenwash to firstname.lastname@example.org