Of Green-washing and time bombs

If you are a person like me, and only want to buy ethical, sustainable and environmentally friendly groceries, it can be quite difficult. It´s not easy to make sure that the whole supply chain meets that criteria, is sustainable, ethical and not in any way connected to horrible things like child labor, use of toxins, deforestation or the extinction of plant or animal species.

It is a complicated world

Organically certified products are one of the safest options you have. But strangely enough, many of the worst products, from the point of view of environmental protection, sustainability and ethical production, in the European, Oceanic and US markets, would be considered either vegan or vegetarian. And also, organically certified products can be transported around the world with a huge carbon footprint and other pollution. All this complicates things. The best solution still seems to be to buy locally grown products that are as little processed as possible and cook from scratch yourself.

Green Consumer Awareness

Numerous surveys show us that consumers are becoming more aware and demand for good, clean and fair is increasing. According to a 2015 Nielsen report, 66% of consumers were willing to pay more for sustainable products. The respondents were 30 thousand people in 60 countries. This number has risen since then. In a recent survey, 81% said, that companies should contribute to environmental issues.

Green business is the answer

Other surveys show similar results. Consumers want businesses to be responsible and ethical. They are willing to pay more for green and sustainable products. Numerous companies have responded to this trend with all kinds of projects, product development, collaboration with environmental protection organizations and so on. More and more companies now have specific environmental, sustainability and climate policies.

But some have chosen the path of deception

But unfortunately, not all companies mean what they say when it comes to environmental issues, sustainability and ethical business practices. Some even use lies or deception. Such a behavior is commonly called Greenwash. Unfortunately, there are to many examples of that.

Sometimes false claims are exposed

Various civil society organizations and in some cases the media, are now increasingly focusing on the Greenwashing of companies, in order to expose it and inform consumers. A number of companies have suffered heavy losses of trust and customers because they have not taken care of making all their supply chain ethical and environmental friendly. An example that comes to mind is Ferrero, the Italian manufacturer of Nutella hazelnut spread, which has been badly hurt by negative press about deforestation in connection to palm oil production.

Iceland and international consumer trends

It is not a question of whether, but when, this wave of Anti-Greenwash will reach Iceland. At some point, grassroots organizations and the media will put the more effort into exposing Greenwashing. In recent years we have seen how the fight against food waste and the use of disposable plastic has put these things on the agenda and led to change in behavior, both of consumers and companies.

Is company Greenwash a time bomb ready to go of?

Greenwash is one of these things that is waiting to become a major issue in the social debate in Iceland. Fortunately, Icelanders are in a better position than many, being one of the cleanest and most environmentally friendly food producers in the world. However, Iceland is not perfect. There are ticking time bombs hidden around the whole food production system. Greenwashing exists in Iceland like everywhere else.

Could the Greenwash time bomb be deactivated?

Yes they could. And the sad thing is that many of the Greenwash issues that arise – and sometimes cost manufacturers both sales, money, trust and reputation – were predictable. It would have been possible to respond in advance by looking up these time bombs and disconnecting them – by honestly changing the policies and procedures.

True or false – life or death

Consumers want greener and more ethical food. This demand has increased greatly in recent years and will continue to increase. Businesses respond, some by doing something serious and real, others by pretending and painting everything in green, without doing anything that really matters. These companies will hardly get away with this in the long run, based on the development of consumer attitudes and the development that we are witnessing around the world.

Search for Greenwash time bombs should be a priority

My queston is. Wouldn’t it be a good use of time for all Icelandic food manufacturers, both the companies themselves and their owners, to look thoroughly for Greenwashing time bombs within their organisations? I think it would be. Then maybe, they can be disconnected them before they become irreversible. Hopefully, and probably, most of Icelandic food producers have their house in order. But there are probably some that need to do a real spring cleaning. Before some of their practices becomes a front page story of Greenwash with the following a breach of consumer trust and collapse in sales. International examples show that it is wise to act in time.

Unfortunately, many large retail and food companies in the world are participating in Greenwash. But thankfully, many have also started an honest search for Greenwash time bombs in their own camps. In such an effort, everything needs to be thoroughly examined; production practices, business models, supply chains and management’s attitudes.

The next big thing in Iceland?

By comparing the words palm oil, food waste and green laundry in Google’s data, it is obvious that consumer interest in knowing about and recognizing Greenwashing is growing rapidly. Especially in countries such as France and Germany, which have been leading the way towards environmentally friendly lifestyles and business practices. The interest is still small in Iceland, but by looking at and comparing the development of interest in words such as food waste and disposable plastic, it is possible to predict that there is a considerable likelihood of Greenwashing becoming a big issue in Iceland in the near future.

Understanding that times are changing

It is up to the boards of directors and the managers of companies to lead changes in policy and behavior. It is theirs to read the data and try to understand if times are changing. It is up to them to understand where the consumers stand and what the consumers want. It´s their responsibility to search for Greenwash time bombs and defuse them, by making real and honest change to their supply line, methods and policies. The same goes for all companies and it does not matter if they are public, private or cooperatives.

The companies have to look for and disconnect any time bombs that may be hidden within their organizations, whether those time bombs are about production methods, managers or supply lines? If directors and executives intend to turn a blind eye to this foreseeable trend, many companies will be in trouble.

Are green managers the future?

Many large companies change managers regularly, simply to get fresh ideas and new blood. Even though the old ones have a good record. One of the things currently being considered when choosing managers in the food sector is how green the CEO’s are. In the opinion of one of Europe’s larger recruitment companies, there is an increased demand for senior executives that are able to understand marketing, but especially for those who are able to understand environmental issues and sustainability. The reason for this is simple.

Anybody who looks at the data can see that the consumer trend is towards green, sustainable and ethical. Only the companies who respond honestly to that will survive. The truly green companies will thrive and prosper.

But the companies who have only be washed with green, will not!