Greenwash could cost print £22m a year

Richard Stuart-Turner
Friday, October 8, 2021

Unsubstantiated claims about sustainability could cost the UK paper, print, and mailing industries £22m a year, according to new research from Two Sides.

New research has estimated the cost of greenwash to the industry
New research has estimated the cost of greenwash to the industry

The print and paper advocacy group said greenwashing is pervasive and often used in marketing communications to misrepresent products and services as environmentally friendly.

Often with the aim of saving costs, service providers, customer facing organisations, and governmental departments are increasingly focused on switching consumers and citizens away from paper to digital services.

Two Sides said that the encouragement to ‘go digital’ is often accompanied by messages attempting to justify these cost-saving initiatives with misleading and unsubstantiated environmental marketing appeals such as ‘Go Green – Go Paperless’ and ‘Choose e-billing and help save trees’.

Two Sides actively engages with organisations making misleading and unsupported environmental claims against print and paper via its anti-greenwash campaign which, over the past 10 years, has successfully challenged over 750 global organisations; primarily service providers like banks, utilities, and telecoms.

By engaging with major greenwashers in the UK, Two Sides said its campaign has preserved £11.2m of value for the sector and stopped greenwash messages being seen over 209 million times every year.

A research project conducted in May 2021 by Two Sides in partnership with consumer research organisation Censuswide found that, in the UK, greenwashing risks the loss of £22m of value for the paper, print, and mailing industries.

The study also found that 76% of consumers want the right to choose how they receive communications – digitally or printed – from organisations, 67% understand that organisations who greenwash want to save costs by switching to digital bills and statements, 40% do not want to be forced to switch to digital bills and statements, and 38% disbelieve environmental messaging altogether.

Two Sides managing director Jonathan Tame said: “Greenwashing claims are not welcomed by consumers, are often in breach of established environmental marketing rules, and are hugely damaging to an industry which has a solid and continually improving environmental record.

“A healthy market for forest products such as paper and paper packaging encourages the long-term growth of forests through sustainable forest management and the encouragement of biodiversity.”

He added: “Forests play a critical role in mitigating CO2 and provide wider benefits for conservation and biodiversity. It may be surprising to learn that European forests have actually been growing by the equivalent area of 1,500 football pitches every day.

“We are grateful for the cooperation of the hundreds of organisations that have changed or eliminated greenwashing claims from their messaging, and we are also thankful for the many industry stakeholders and members of the public who send Two Sides examples of greenwash.”

He said any instances of greenwash could be forwarded to greenwash@twosides.info.

Consumer lobby group Keep Me Posted, which calls on organisations such as banks, councils, utility companies, and telecoms providers to give their customers a choice in how they receive bills and statements, welcomed the research.

The group’s chair Judith Donovan commented: “In addition to proving costly to the industry, the misleading practice of greenwashing is also impacting on vulnerable consumers who lack the skills or technology to receive digital bills and statements.

“We applaud the work that Two Sides has put into this report, which reveals the shocking cost of greenwashing both to the industry and to consumers.

“Many people simply do not believe what organisations who greenwash are telling them and can see it for what it is – a ploy to cut costs.”

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