In the previous Consumer Compact, we described the importance for a company to clearly evaluate the impact of its packaging (and when possible, reduce it) as part of its overall corporate responsibility. The present article highlights the importance of carefully addressing the role that packaging plays in carrying “green” messages to consumers.

Packaging and green washing

Packaging, among other materials such as web sites and leaflets, is often used by companies to convey a green image, showcase environmental impact reduction or advise consumers on the recyclables of the product. But, when the rules and regulations are (willingly or not) misinterpreted and not complied with, a company is at high risk of seeing its “green claim” turn to “green washing”.

So what does green washing really mean and what are the risks associated? Green washing implies that a company has been misleadingly portraying its products or services as environmentally friendly. In practice, a company engaging in green washing, while initially profiting from the alleged green benefit, exposes itself to backlashes from mislead consumers (confusion, loss of reputation, lack of trust, etc.) and regulators (restrictions, fines, product recalls, seizures, etc.).

Taking the right approach

As a company, putting your head in the sand and pretending you did not know the regulation is not the right approach!

Green claims are a much regulated topic. The ISO 14020 series, the 84/450/ CEE Directive (EU) as well as, for instance, the guidelines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC, USA), the International Code Council (ICC) or the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra, UK) all follow the same basic principle: a company cannot communicate on an environmental benefit if the benefit cannot be proven.

Green claims guideline

Overall, the claim must be accurate, verifiable, traceable, relevant and not misleading. Here are several examples:

General assertions: claims such as 'Respects the environment', 'Green', 'Nature Friendly', 'Ecological', 'Easily degradable' are not allowed

Logos on recycled content: When a logo states that 65% of the material used is recycled if the logo is applied on the packaging, it must clearly state if the logo refers to the packaging or the product. “65%” represents the minimum amount of recycled material.

Restriction of a chemical substance: e.g. Bisphenol A on a baby bottle. The substance can be present on the product but restricted to the legal limit. To communicate the absence of BPA on a bottle, a chemical test must have measured less than the legal limit of Bisphenol A on the polycarbonate tested. If there is evidence that the substance cannot be in the material, it is forbidden to communicate on its absence. Since Bisphenol A does not exist in glass, it is therefore forbidden to claim that a glass baby bottle does not contain Bisphenol A.

Avoid green washing

If you want to make sure that your green claim is not going to be labeled as green washing, SGS has a dedicated team of consultants and experts to assist you. We will help you comply with regulations and protect the image of your company and products. We can also assist with your environmental communication strategy, help you develop a label, and improve the eco-design of your product.

For more information, please contact us:

Cecile Oger
Consulting & Development Director
Global Sustainability Services

SGS France
Tel +33 1 41 24 87 47

About SGS

The SGS Group is the global leader and innovator in inspection, verification, testing and certification services. Founded in 1878, SGS is recognized as the global benchmark in quality and integrity. With more than 64,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,250 offices and laboratories around the world.