Within the graphic arts community, the term greenwashing (using unsubstantiated, nonscientific environmental claims—often not true—to promote a product or service) can cause an avalanche of righteous indignation. And for good reason: there is growing conventional wisdom that if you...
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If a printer—or anyone in the graphic arts, for that matter—makes a claim, they should be specific and make sure they have credible substantiation in existence prior to making the claim.
“If I were a printer,” says Riebel, “I would be aware of environmental marketing guidelines. I would make sure that I have proof coming from responsible sources, to back up any claims. If the paper you are using is labeled as eco-friendly, make sure that its attributes are well-certified and based on a third-party proof. Deal with responsible companies that have a solid environmental performance.”
As Riebel notes, one way of insuring your claims are accurate is via third-party certification; another is by following ISO Standard 14021, which lists specific requirements for self-declared environmental claims.
Tree-free Paper Joins the Fray
One marketing mistake Riebel is seeing right now within the graphic arts community involves the promotion of paper products that are tree-free, made with recycled fiber or agricultural waste. “Companies making these products are suggesting that they are better for the environment than paper made with trees,” says Riebel. “But much of the paper in use today is made from trees that are coming from managed forests, and that are responsibly sourced.”
The marketing departments that are making these claims are stepping into an area that resembles greenwashing, says Riebel.
“We should be promoting all the different fibers as a sustainable alternative; we shouldn’t be pinning tree-free fibers against wood,” says Riebel. “One product is not necessarily better for the environment—it depends so much on the life cycle of these products. Plus, it sends the wrong message that using trees are a bad thing. If you get your paper from a responsible source, from a company that is using a well-managed, sustainable forest, if you get paper with the highest level of certification, then you are helping to promote the longevity of the forest and of trees.”
Two Sides is leading the charge to stop U.S. companies from pinning one product against another. “When you make environmental claims in your promotional materials or ads, you need factual, science-based evidence,” says Riebel. “Most companies don’t have that information. You are not even allowed to use pictures of trees, frogs, leaves—anything that may suggest that it is better for the environment.”
According to Carli, the printing industry needs to stop being timid in addressing systemic fraud in practices that are inflammatory. “Print has enough of a challenge to compete on its merits; it makes matters worse if it allows media competitors to step out of the line that the law provides to assure the greater good,” says Carli. “Consumers don’t win if there is misleading advertising.”
Adds Carli, “Until recently, there wasn’t any focus on a company’s use of environmental benefit claims that were not specific and substantiated. It’s easy to say ‘switch to electronic billing and save a tree,’ especially if there is little fear of consequence whether or not it is true. Banks, utilities, cable t.v. operations—all encourage consumers to switch to electronic billing, with their primary argument that if you switch to electronic billing, you will save a tree. They do this both implicitly—showing pictures of a tree or a leaf in their email pleas—or directly, saying ‘If you do this, you will have done something good for the environment.’”
Now, however, there are government guidelines, issued by the Federal Trade Commission, addressing these kinds of broad, general, non-specific environmental claims and the widespread substantiation of these claims.
The Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as the Green Guides, offer rules to the marketer regarding advertising, promotional material, and all other forms of marketing. It specifically calls to task companies that make general, broad, unspecific claims regarding the environmental attributes of a package, product or service.