The issue of greenwashing and how to avoid it

By Simon Pitman in New York

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sustainable packaging Packaging Environmentalism

As the green movement becomes inextricably linked to the cosmetics industry so too do questions over the integrity of some of its proponents.

Because of this, so-called greenwashing has become a buzz word, as eco-friendly offerings marketed by personal care players come under the microscope, often revealing just how distorted the interpretation of sustainable can be.

Sustainable packaing part of global process

In a key presentation given at this week's HBA conference program, design packaging consultant Wendy Jedlicka pointed to the fact that sustainable packaging is part of a global process that takes into account the whole supply chain and production process.

“Just because a packaging material comes from a sustainable source this isn't necessarily replicated in the rest of the supply chain and production process,”​ Jedlicka said.

Likewise she also points to ambiguities in the regulation of sustainable packaging that have led to problems such as self certification, whereby personal care companies have been known to write their own rules for the certification process.

“This is no longer on and now US regulation authorities are looking to European regulation as inspiration for new guidelines on sustainable packaging,”​ said Jedlicka.

“In Europe sustainable packaging guidelines are much tougher, but things are starting to change in the US and it seems that the guidelines will eventually get there.”

Wal Mart leading the way

Notably Jedlicka holds up Wal Mart as one of the key players to influence the move towards sustainable packaging in the US.

“Wal Mart has really gone for it on sustainable packaging, putting the pressure on the supplier to make the changes, something that has really had a significant impact on the market in the all-important mass market category.”

Jedlicka also points to Aveda, highlighting the fact that this company has also done much to help shape the direction for personal care players themselves.

“Aveda's buy-out by Estee Lauder was feared by many to be the end of its pristine eco-friendly image. But instead it led to big changes in the way Estee Lauder conducted its business, particularly with respect to packaging.”

Aveda goes one step further

As Jedlicka points out, what Aveda has done is go one step further and give something back, and it is this objective that has given them great credibility, both within the industry and with the consumer.

But concerns over the environment are not the only reason why big players like Estee Lauder are being converted to the green side.

As Jedlicka points out, “If you go green it makes green. This is because sustainability is a profit center if it is managed correctly.”

But the bottom line is simple, 'earn trust by doing something worthy'.

In a nutshell, an increasingly sophisticated and developed market category means that greenwashing just won't wash any more.

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