Business Advice

Why greenwashing is a dirty business

by FESPA | 10/08/2020
Why greenwashing is a dirty business

Greenwashing is rife – an outer covering of environmental credibility hides a multitude of sins. We look at how printers can move towards sustainability honestly.

Let’s start with a definition of ‘greenwashing’. While ‘whitewashing’ is a well-known term that refers to companies and individuals covering things up, greenwashing is a more recent phenomenon and phrase. Put simply, it refers to the way companies cover up their lack of true environmentally friendly credentials by spinning or putting a gloss on what they do. The world is rife with organisations spending a lot of time telling us how ‘good’ they are, without really doing much that actually deserves to be applauded.

The best way to avoid greenwashing is to strive to make your company and products as environmentally friendly as possible, rather than just paying lip service to it

Are printers guilty of this? Some are, but they’re also the victim of it, with industry rivals spreading disinformation that paints the work of printers in an unfair light.

How to avoid greenwashing

The best way to avoid greenwashing is to strive to make your company and products as environmentally friendly as possible, rather than just paying lip service to it. And if you’re unable to do so, don’t pretend that you are.

If you’re advertising, highlight the things you’re doing and actively working towards, rather than implying that you’ve already reached the end of your journey. Printers can minimise the impact of their activity in a way that is both honest and transparent. Jonathan Tame, Managing Director of print industry non-profit Two Sides, says that, “There are lots of very simple things printers can do to reduce their impacts, and sources of help and information to support them. They should look at their own manufacturing impacts, processes and lean manufacturing – energy efficiencies, recycling and distribution, and of their upstream supply chain through their purchasing and use of sustainable products.”

He also stresses the importance of continuing to improve, rather than just ticking a few boxes and moving on. “ISO 14001 or/and EMAS are environmental standards which provide a framework for organisations to manage and report their impacts in a transparent way, and a process for continued improvement. They can also use this standard when purchasing from companies as a measure of their supply chain.”

Levelling the pitch

Of course, it’s one thing for print companies to make such improvements, it’s another for them to be recognised for such. That’s where Two Sides plays a key role. The campaigning group functions not just as an advocate for the advances made by the print world in terms of sustainability, but also actively campaign to challenge erroneous and misleading claims made by greenwashers.

Many organisations are encouraging their customers to switch to digital services by using unfounded environmental claims such as “Go Green – Go Paperless” and “Choose e-billing and help save a tree”

Jonathan says it’s enormously prevalent. “In ongoing efforts to cut costs, many banks, telecom providers, utility companies and even governmental organisations are encouraging their customers to switch to digital services by using unfounded environmental claims such as “Go Green – Go Paperless” and “Choose e-billing and help save a tree”. In most countries, making such statements conflicts with advertising rules where environmental claims must be based on facts and supported by evidence. These statements impact on consumers perception and are hugely damaging to an industry which has a solid and continually improving environmental record.”

Two Sides have successfully challenged over 500 companies on such statements over the last 10 years. A recent example concerned software company Adobe, who ran an e-card campaign that included the copy, “Did you know a huge 900 million holiday cards are sold in the UK each year? Save the trees and send an e-card instead.” After being challenged with some hard facts – that much of the card industry is renewable, sustainable and involves carbon capture, while e-waste and servers for e-cards and cloud computing can be hugely wasteful – they backtracked. Clearly, it’s important for print companies not to greenwash, but just as important for competitors not to peddle myths about printing.


Currently many companies are assessing the fallout from the outbreak of coronavirus across the globe, and it has had a deep impact on the sector. One of the unfortunate ones is the rise of ‘coronawashing’, where polluting or unethical companies highlight the often tiny contribution they have made to the battle against COVID-19.

Jonathan and Two Sides are keenly aware of post-pandemic greenwashing. “We have already seen examples of companies using COVID-19, and potential transmissions of the virus, as a justification of pushing their consumers on-line to save money,” he says. We have published a fact sheet on this subject to help the industry explain to any concerned the low risk of transmission. Importantly with increased digital marketing, as the economy recovers the industry must remind brand and agencies the power of physically putting your brand in the consumers hand through printed communications.”

The truth in advertising can sometimes be hard to discern, and for print companies – like those in other sectors – it can often be tempting to make yourself look better than you truly are. But with organisations like Two Sides, you can help transition to a greener business model without being dishonest.

by FESPA Back to News

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