Green-minded shoppers are being conned when they should be rewarded. It’s time for green biz to fight back, says Daniel Hemsley, co-founder of Beagle Button.
A recent survey of 1000 UK consumers ranked H&M, Primark and Amazon in the top five best retailers for sustainability.
While ethical consumerism grew tenfold between 1999 and 2020, the data suggests greenwashing is deeply entrenched and the positive public perception of some of the worst serial eco-offenders couldn’t be more wrong.
The term ‘greenwashing’ was first coined in the 80’s and can broadly be defined as a business making misleading claims about their environmental impact, giving customers the illusion that they care about the planet and people when in fact they are continuing their damaging practices.
Pretty greenwashing dresses
In June it was widely reported that H&M was being sued for misrepresenting their Conscious Choice line. The lawsuit alleged that H&M, in a move they later downplayed as a technical error, ignored the minus signs of some of their Higgs Index scores. For example, if a piece had a water-use score of -20%, meaning it uses 20% more water on average, it was listed online as using 20% less.
When the Competition and Markets Authority published a new Green Claims Code to tackle greenwashing, they reported that as much as 40% of firms’ green claims online could be misleading.
Why does this matter?
Greenwashing twists the good intentions that so many of us have and uses them against us to flog inferior products. Furthermore, a recent poll of our community revealed concerns about greenwashing as the second largest obstacle, behind price, for making more sustainable choices.
With the climate crisis upon us, it has never been more important for all of us earthlings to connect our everyday actions to our environment, which is why it is so damaging when we are deliberately misled and encouraged to gloss over the impact of our choices.
Very few people would ever buy products with labels reading ‘Made with Child Labour’ or ‘Waste from This Product Contaminates the Water We Drink and The Food We Eat’, but we inadvertently do this all the time, due to misleading information.
Every penny we spend is a vote for the world we want to live in. From your toothbrush to H&M dresses to our bank accounts and pension providers, we always have a choice, we just need that choice to be informed and not bamboozled by greenwashing or the lack of clear information.
If you search on Amazon for a ‘bamboo toothbrush’ you’ll get 1000s of results, promising everything a budding ethical consumer would want to see, from ‘charcoal bristles’ to ‘100% biodegradable’. For something as simple as a toothbrush, there are thousands of options and no easy way of knowing which brands can be trusted and which products are genuinely sustainable. We’ve become accustomed to unparalleled convenience and can summon almost anything with the push of a button so why is it still so difficult for the average person who doesn’t have time to look up the material properties of different types of toothbrush bristles to make a simple switch?
We know from our research at Beagle that the majority of consumers aren’t willing to trade down on price or functionality for an ethical alternative, but they don’t have to. In our experience, when done right, sustainable alternatives reward your decision to make a planet-friendly choice and chip away at the perception that by opting for a sustainable alternative you are somehow getting a worse or inferior product.
I founded Beagle, which is designed to help consumers find the best, genuine eco alternatives, with a mission to make greenwashing a thing of the past and help the business community reward consumers for making better choices, but the solution is far bigger than one company.
We believe businesses and governments should be making it easier for people to reduce their impact on the planet. From baby clothes engineered to grow with your child to Christmas trees you can rent, there are great sustainable options out there – and when enough people take these options, real change is made. It’s just that for consumers finding and trusting these genuine incredible alternatives isn’t simple.
So what can genuinely eco-friendly businesses do? If the planet-first businesses of the world want to compete with the likes of Amazon, or H&M and call out the greenwashing, they cannot do it alone. Green businesses need to come together, support each other, talk about one another to their audiences to get them familiar with buying from more than one or two shops.
In the same way that our food is now labelled with calories and allergens, the government should introduce both mandatory carbon labelling, and badges that state if the product was not made using living-wage labour, or tested on animals allowing consumers to compare eco-credentials easily.
A big barrier to the success of green brands are the convenience, ease and perceived benefits that brands like Amazon can offer consumers. There is a growing awareness that these benefits are often exaggerated (prices for Prime members have been found up to 76% higher than those listed prices for non-prime users) The convenience comes with unseen but very real human and environmental costs. It is our belief that the only way to counter this is for small green brands to unite as a federation of fed-up businesses owners and make our voices heard.
So this is an invitation and a call to arms. Green businesses have a pivotal role to play in combating the climate crisis, we can achieve more together than by working alone. So, If you or a business you know about have the same green dreams as us, please reach out. Let’s work together to have a greater impact at scale.
Beagle Button is a browser extension for sustainable shopping.