Green washing is no way to mark World Environment Day, brands must make real change

Jo Loves, by Jo Malone, is doing its part to save the planet this week by giving customers a tote bag for free when they opt out of box packaging. The brand’s ‘packaging free week’ coincides with World Environment Day on Wednesday.

This gesture smacks of green tokenism. Jo Loves says on its website that it only uses fully recyclable and FSC-approved material for its boxes and sleeves and that it aims to make its other non-recyclable packaging materials and products – of which there are many – recyclable. If the brand wants to show commitment to sustainability it needs to do so throughout its entire operations and put a rigorous CSR policy in place. A packaging free week does not change how it impacts the environment as a company.

Go green from within

Some higher-end brands may argue that being sustainable is at odds with luxury. Many luxury brands talk about their commitment to social and environmental issues but few take a proactive stance.

That doesn’t mean it’s not possible. Stella McCartney’s personal passion is the driver for the brand’s policy on sustainability. The designer is a vocal animal rights activist and has made a commitment to never use animal-derived materials such as fur, leather and feathers. This policy is implemented throughout the organisation. Rumour has it the brand’s employees aren’t allowed to eat meat-based sandwiches for lunch in the company’s offices. Even the mannequins in the stores are made from largely biodegradable sugar cane.

This commitment makes sustainability part of the brand’s DNA and means the consumer that buys that brand can’t opt out in any way. Brands have the power to change consumer behaviour and have a positive impact on the environment. Waitrose & Partners removed all plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables and 5p single-use plastic bags from spring this year. Soon after this came into play, I walked into a Waitrose one evening without any bags on me. I only realised my problem at the self-service check out and had to walk out of the store cradling the products in my arms. I learned my lesson and will never go into a Waitrose without a bag.

In order to create behaviour, telling people to be more sustainable won’t do the trick. We are creatures of habit that need simple tricks to help us in our daily lives. We respond well to small pushes, or nudges, in the right direction. Ariel succeeded in doing this with its ‘Turn to 30’ campaign which asked people to make a simple change when doing their clothes washing.

Creatures of habit

When Patagonia launched their Repair Your Gear service they went as far as telling people not to buy its products in order to encourage them to consider the effect of consumerism on the environment. Urban Outfitters is launching an online subscription service, called Nuuly, that allows customers to rent and return clothes – emulating the trailblazing companies such as Rent the Runway which has been offering this for over a decade. Both Patagonia and Urban Outfitters have made changes because they understand their audience and what motivates them.

To avoid accusations of greenwashing, brands must do the right thing behind the scenes until they have an approach to sustainability that is genuine, effective and worthy of being talked about. Only then can they look at how to take this further by developing policies or products and services that help us lazy consumers do something good.


Author: Wybe Magermans – Managing Director.

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