Sustainability: Avoiding the Greenwash
The ongoing and evolving conversation around sustainability remains a hot topic for retailers and suppliers alike as each side of the equation continues to develop new products and packaging with the goal of having a minimal impact on the environment.
While not new to the sustainability discussion, greenwashing has resurfaced recently as the number of claims regarding topics ranging from how products are sourced to whether a packaging is truly recyclable or compostable continues to grow.
Experts that spoke with Store Brands feel the greenwashing discussion has evolved in recent years. In the past, when sustainability initially hit the radar of retailers and product developers, there was a greater sense that claims related to a product’s sustainability bonafides were purposely false.
Expert Advice to Avoid Greenwashing Issues
For retailers, avoiding greenwashing remains a challenge, and beyond not intentionally making false claims, industry experts offered advice on how to ensure claims being made are accurate.
“I think it’s important for companies to stay in their lane,” said Susan Thoman, principal and managing director with the Compost Manufacturing Alliance. “There are many organizations that have great tools and information designed to help make sure claims are accurate. In addition, these organizations know how the system works and make sure suppliers and retailers avoid mistakes.”
Christine Miklosko, packaging solutions strategist with Quad, said, “Develop a road map that outlines the organization’s priorities. It’s important to note that while a company may have a number of things it wants to do related to sustainability, they can’t do everything at once.”
Abby Ayers, senior director of Retail Partners with Fair Trade USA, offered, “Working with a third-party verification company provides a good understanding of the issues. We can show retailers how to talk and not talk about certain topics. And, we also work to ensure that all claims are verifi able.”
Mark Madrack, senior vice president of Sales/Private Label with The Sofidel Group, added, “It’s important for retail leaders to educate themselves on a product’s entire supply chain and ensure they’re engaging with products that can back up sustainability claims. Listening to experts, attending sustainability conferences and ultimately asking questions will allow retail leaders build awareness of this topic. This requires time and dedication, but ultimately will help the planet in the long run.”
Sustainability's Influence on Purchases Grows
Consumers are continuing to become increasingly conscious of sustainability, and are looking for ways to make a difference with their spending habits, according to a recent report by NIQ, formerly NeilsenIQ.
The consumer data firm’s recent report “The Changing Climate of Sustainability” showed that 69% of those surveyed said sustainability has become more important to them over the past two years, citing an increase in information on the topic (48%), as well as personally experiencing the effects of climate change (47%).
At two recent industry events, Sherry Frey, VP of Total Wellness at NIQ, spoke about consumers’ willingness to support brands and products that they believe are making a positive impact on people and the planet.
“Half of consumers are saying it’s [sustainability] very important to them, and if you think about it, retail is the space where we’ve seen early indicators of sustainability,” Frey said during a presentation at the National Grocers Association’s 2023 Show in Las Vegas. “This is the space on a day-in and day-out basis that consumers are showing us their values. They’re buying their values. It’s certainly easier to show your support for sustainability on your grocery store visit than it is to rewire your garage and buy an electric car.”