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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 14, 2009
Environmentally Responsible Business
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The Key to Poland's Transition to Sustainability
October 14, 2009   
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"Greenwashing" is the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.*

Detailed analysis of the extent of greenwashing in Poland has not yet been undertaken. In part this is because "green marketing" has only recently become a priority for international and local companies operating in the country. But a visit to a supermarket or almost any corporate website suggests that green claims are now commonplace.
According to surveys commissioned by the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation (PEPF)-Poland's leading environmental NGO -Polish people want to do the right thing environmentally, but are increasingly suspicious of misleading claims. In fact, there is growing confusion and frustration among consumers, environmental groups, government agencies as well as many companies as to what constitutes environmentally responsible behavior. The environmental legitimacy of tree-planting schemes, advertising campaigns, carbon calculators, eco-picnics , conferences and other public events, such Earth Day or Car-Free Day, which have become popular in Poland in recent years, are increasingly being questioned. Companies involved in such media-oriented "happenings" are increasingly seen as being part of the environmental problem rather than the solution.

Greenwashing, it seems, is on the rise in Poland, along with cynicism as to the intentions of business. This is a pity as many companies, large and small, are serious about their environmental commitments.

Greenwashing is bad for the economy
Greenwashing poses some significant risks for business development in Poland, as well as for those in government and civil society who are seeking to green the Polish economy by promoting more (not less) collaboration with business to bring about more sustainable patterns of consumption and production.

By buying products which do not deliver on their environmental promise, well-intentioned consumers will lose faith not just in companies producing or selling those particular products, but in all companies. This is because greenwashing, when exposed, leads to cynicism and doubt about all environmental claims. What's more, illegitimate environmental claims take market share away from new or innovative products which do spread environmental innovation through the marketplace.

All this is important because losing the power of the market will translate into slower progress towards sustainability. Government and civil society groups working without business as a partner are unlikely to harness the full potential of the marketplace to green the Polish economy.

According to many environmentalists and some government officials, if companies cannot be relied on to contribute to environmental solutions, then more regulations and government intervention is needed. Yet introducing more regulation risks being counterproductive and missing an emerging opportunity for businesses, civil society groups and government departments to pool their respective strengths and resources in a joint effort to green production and consumption in Poland.

Alternatives to government intervention?
Polish consumers are becoming more discerning (and also better traveled and more internet savvy). This means that Polish consumers will soon want to know not just whether a specific product is "green," but also to what extent the company producing the product is serious about its environmental claims-does it operate its manufacturing facilities responsibly, encourage employees to behave environmentally through greening offices or mobility schemes, introduce renewables to power its operations or partner with civil society groups to share in the responsibility of bringing about positive environmental change in the wider community?

Home-grown consumer power is good news and should be encouraged.

In this regard, the Environmental Partnership's experience over nearly two decades of supporting, inspiring and participating in community-based practical action projects across Poland is encouraging. The good news is that hundreds of households, schools, communities, businesses, farms, local government and voluntary groups across Poland have already taken on the ambitious task of reducing the environmental impacts of their day-to-day activities, saving money in the process and aspiring to an improved quality of life.

Recognizing environmental achievement
To counteract the proliferation of greenwashing in Poland, the Environmental Partnership has developed an initiative to authenticate and promote environmental action of the kind it has supported for nearly two decades. Under the initiative, organizations can seek one or more certificates to attest to their environmental credentials and so become part of an emerging grassroots movement for sustainable development, concentrated on practical action rather than media-oriented propaganda. Four certificates are available. Each one is linked to networks developed through the Foundation's thematic programs.

To become certified under one or more of these schemes, an organization must be implementing practical environmental action on a day-to-day basis, striving always to do better. It must be willing to subject its efforts to verification by an independent auditor and then vetted by a National Awards Committee based on a peer review process. Quality control is assured through periodic review and spot checks. What's more, public feedback and whistleblowing to uncover abuse and greenwashing are positively encouraged.

One of the key benefits of certification is the opportunity to connect with and learn from other organizations striving to make real contributions to environmental improvement. As more organizations become certified, there will be more opportunities for joint marketing, procurement and product innovation- which will be co-created by those involved.

Responsible companies: key to curbing greenwashing
The Environmental Partnership's three strategic corporate partners-BP, Toyota and Cadbury-are key to the campaign to curb greenwashing in Poland. They have all made global commitments to improving their environmental performance and have sought to integrate environmental responsibility into their day-to-day Polish operations. All three have committed to fighting greenwashing by demonstrating that the benefits of a green approach are integral to their own business culture and operations and to sharing their expertise with others through the PEPF. By subjecting its offices in Poland to green office audits, for example, BP has been able to demonstrate to other companies involved with the foundation that the company practices what it preaches in its Polish operations. The BP offices in Cracow are now used as a reference and resource by other organizations seeking to green their offices, with BP staff acting as advisors and motivators.

Collective action by international companies which are following through on their global environmental commitments is key to counteracting greenwashing. This is because they can and do exert influence on their employees, on the communities they work with and on small companies which are part of their supply chains. Companies which have a significant stake or interest in greening the Polish economy on account of their investments in production facilities and market access must do more individually and together to demonstrate that they are serious about their environmental responsibility. This will be key to speeding Poland's transition to a more environmentally sustainable economy and society.

Rafal Serafin

Rafal Serafin is a development director at the Partnering Initiative, a global program of the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF), based in London. The IBLF works with over 80 global companies to put business at the heart of sustainable development (www.iblf.org). He has also been associated with the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation and its mission to enable community-based sustainable development for nearly 20 years (www.fpds.org). He can be contacted at rafal.serafin@iblf.org

7 Sins of Greenwashing
1. Hidden Tradeoffs-suggesting a product is green by focusing on an unreasonably narrow set of environmental attributes which ignore other, more significant environmental impacts. For example, the claim that paper from sustainably harvested forests is environmentally favorable, ignoring other effects of the paper-making process, which involve pollution.
2. No Proof-unsubstantiated environmental claims. For example, claims that toilet tissue is made from varying percentages of recycled material.
3. Vagueness-broad claims that cannot be put to the test. A typical example is the claim that a product is 100 percent natural. Uranium and mercury are also natural. What is natural is not necessarily green.
4. Irrelevance-claims which are truthful, but irrelevant or unhelpful to those seeking environmentally preferable products. For example, labeling products as "CFC-free" is unhelpful as products must be CFC free by law.
5. Lesser of two evils-focusing on an environmental attribute of a product category which itself is problematic. Examples are electronic cigarettes or fuel-efficient SUVs.
6. Fibbing-this is the least common category, but the most significant as it involves claims that are simply false. For example, claiming energy efficiency performance when such performance cannot be attained.
7. Worshipping false labels-creating the illusion that products have been endorsed by third parties, especially through "own-labeling" schemes which are not subjected to independent verification.

The 7 sins of greenwashing were articulated by TerraChoice, a leading US environmental marketing firm.

You can find out more on www.sinsofgreenwashing.org

* This was a definition used by TerraChoice, a leading US environmental marketing firm, when investigating environmental claims made by companies in the United States, Britain and Australia earlier this year. You can find out more on www.sinsofgreenwashing.org

Environmental Certificates
For details on how to qualify for one or more of the Polish Environmental Partnership Foundation's environmental certificates and to view a list of certificate holders, see

Green Office
……an initiative to reduce the environmental impact of offices.

Bicycle Friendly
……an initiative to enable organizations to become part of the green infrastructure needed to promote bicycling.

Clean Tourism
…..an initiative to promote environmental responsibility in the tourism sector.

……an initiative to encourage schools to become living examples of sustainable development.
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