Thought Leadership

The good, the bad and the greenwash: 7 brands who hit the headlines for impact transparency in 2020

The good, the bad and the greenwash: 7 brands who hit the headlines for impact transparency in 2020
Image credit: Gousto is working to “reduce, reuse and recycle”, but still a work in progress.

Over the last year, we’ve witnessed the rise in pressure to use sustainability as a marketing tool. It reached new heights in 2020, accelerated by a sharp rise in eco-expectations that only a global pandemic and an extended period of introspection could generate. It’s now common to see ethical claims front and centre in brand campaigns.

At Provenance, we work hard to combat greenwashing and bring integrity to brand communications through our program and platform for impact transparency.

We see overblown sustainability claims as a big threat to the progress happening to enable ethical, sustainable supply chains. It’s much easier and quicker for marketers to talk in vague terms about what brands think they’re doing, instead of proving their credentials and communicating what they are truthfully doing.

Greenwashing may not always be done with mal intent. However, it’s being placed under the microscope at speed. Regulation is closing in on this throughout the UK and Europe, and the USA may not be far behind.

So, our team has got together (albeit in a virtual sense) and created a list of the most interesting and headline-grabbing cases in the sustainability space this year and given our view on how their impact could be made more credibly transparent.

Recycling claims for your packaging must not confuse shoppers

In the spotlight: Gousto

The Grocer on Gousto packaging claims

What’s good: Gousto has made strides in reducing its plastic, such as a 50% decrease in 2019. They’ve also committed to all of their packaging being reusable, recyclable or compostable by the end of 2022.

What’s not: After making multiple claims about their new ‘Eco Chill Box’ being plastic-free and recyclable, the ASA ruled that it was misleading. Specifically on the recycling claims, which only related to part of the packaging, “the ASA considered that consumers would take this to mean that every component of the box was recyclable.

What could be better: We see the issue of only part recyclability frequently in the FMCG category. Shoppers need clear guidance around this and expect packaging that’s easy for them to dispose of in its entirety. It’s always better to be honest if there’s areas of your business that you’re still working on – and communicate your plans for improvement.

If you’re making a sustainability claim, make sure it has depth

In the spotlight: Quorn

Food Navigator on Quorn carbon footprint

What’s good: Prominent leaders in meat-free products, Quorn is working with the Carbon Trust as a third-party certifier and has committed to ‘farm to shop’ carbon footprint data on many of their items.

What’s not: We were excited when Quorn put carbon labels on their products. When they brought out their lunch pots, they came under fire for claiming “helps us reduce our carbon footprint” without explaining how this reduction would take place.

The Quorn advert was banned by the Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) saying the claim made about the product’s climate footprint was “likely to mislead” shoppers.

What could be better: Quorn should have used clear, on-pack and digital communications that give depth to the claims they were making. Ideally, we’d like to see the carbon footprint measurements in a comparable way, along with access to the reports – directly on pack or via a QR code.

Regenerative plans must be measurable and specific

In the spotlight: Nestlé

Edie on Nestle net-zero targets

What’s good: We were excited to see a detailed net-zero roadmap from Nestlé, backed with measurable targets and data – especially the focus on addressing the supply chain emissions that make up 95% of their footprint.

What’s not: A lack of details and transparency around progress, especially when related to their supply chain and the regions they operate in. Bringing more granular supply chain information to the forefront on topics such as biodiversity, water, labour conditions, packaging and transport would be helpful and give their roadmap more weight.

What could be better: Their commitment to sourcing 20% of key ingredients through regenerative agricultural methods by 2025 is hopeful, though we’d like some clarity on what that means in terms of actual hectares so we can better compare with what others are doing. We’d also like to see consistent transparency around the work they’re doing and the impact it has on suppliers and shoppers.

The best impact transparency communications are succinct, clear and compelling  

In the spotlight: Organic Basics

Vogue Organic Basics Carbon Footprint of websites

What’s good: Definitely leading the industry, Organic Basics is candidly educating the consumer about how the fashion industry is contributing to climate change by communicating the environmental impact of each product to their shoppers in a comparable way through their Impact Index methodology. We love their low-carbon website option and think they are pioneering in their education on the carbon impact of websites in general.

What’s not: We don’t see anything that’s apparently missing from their approach to impact communications. They’re inspiring us!

What could be better: While the design is great, their sustainability goals and targets could be laid out in a more clear and compelling way to engage around specific details of what they’re doing and the impact. We’d like to see assigned dates to the progress they're hoping to achieve – for example, a date for targets and also for what’s been done so far. Still, they’re miles ahead of the pack!

If transparency is at the core of your business, you better be powered by integrity

In the spotlight: Everlane

Everlane radical transparency lacking in New York Times

What’s good: Everlane were early on in the “radical transparency” space and inspired a lot of brands to be more open. They were well known for opening up about their sourcing materials, the environmental impact of finished products and social impact credentials of the suppliers they partner with.  

What’s not: It was quite stark reading about the internal working culture at Everlane – anti-black rhetoric, nepotism, no procedures for dealing with harassment and grievances. It showed even the best “born-good” brands can have toxic working cultures.

Their response: Everlane’s founder and CEO Michael Preysman issued an apology, established equality accountability committees, moved around some senior members of staff and opened up a seat on their board for a black member in the coming year.

What could be better: We’re still waiting to see the outcomes to the actions they took, so we’ll reserve judgement for now.

Impact and progress should be where the shopper is, not buried on your website

In the spotlight: Oatly

BBC: Oatly raises funds - transparency

What’s good: Oatly’s impact report communicates the progress they have made and not made each year across resources, suppliers, employees and society – a holistic focus with an honest tone. Even more so, we love that the carbon footprint label is on every product that we pick up.

What’s not: All their sustainability credentials are currently buried on their website and impact report. It would be great if more of this was easily accessible on-pack as well (like the carbon label) – with a link to see more online.  

What could be better: We wish we could see their carbon impact changes over time, and how they are faring in key social and environmental impact areas that shoppers care about in a simple format.

We also wish they had commented earlier on and with more transparency around their investment from Blackstone. This should include a transparent roadmap for how they intend to maintain control and ensure integrity as they scale with the money they’ve taken and any trade-offs that have been accepted, or even mitigated, in the hope of longer-term, bigger picture impact.

Be specific with your commitments, and progress towards them

In the spotlight: L’Oréal

L'oreal sustainability targets Harpers Bazaar

What’s good: The ambition behind their ‘L’Oréal For The Future’ commitments and, in particular, Garnier’s work on opening up about their goals and progress in their sustainability report.

What’s not: There's a lack of specificity and evidence, for example on their renewable energies page. While it’s common to just have commitments listed out without any links through to see who’s auditing, we’d expect more about what the actual reports say and where specifically this is happening (which labs, factories, suppliers, etc.).

What could be better: Sharing details like locations and specific details around their work, as well as evidence regarding progress would offer increased transparency. We're looking forward to seeing how an environmental labelling scheme being piloted with Garnier France will be rolled out.

Don’t know where to start? Here are our three steps for impact transparency

In 2021, brands must make improvements to their impact on people and the planet, and be honest about any progress towards doing that. We suggest tackling the biggest issues around impact transparency using the following steps:

  • Use a clear, consistent and independent framework for communicating impact. You can’t make this bespoke for your own business, and only measure yourself using your own yardstick. You also can’t muddy the facts with technical language. We’ve created our Transparency Framework, an open-source framework that has been benchmarked to international standards and uses third-party verified information, to support businesses in communicating consistently on the things that matter with proof.
  • Unite marketing, sustainability and procurement. Smash through the silos that are often endemic in larger-scale organisations to create a more open means of communicating. These relationships have to go beyond the annual holiday party so the stories that are told to shoppers reflect the work that’s being done.
  • Get the right information in front of shoppers. This should be core to all brand interactions, even if you’re not perfect. This means not hiding it away in a report or deep in a website. Bring this to the point of sale, as well as your storytelling and engagement opportunities.

Starting with these three key steps should ensure your brand is putting your best foot forward – bringing honesty, integrity and momentum to your impact communications and giving greenwashing the boot.

Interested in exploring the transparency opportunity for your brand in 2021? Get in touch.

The Provenance Team

Sharing insights, trends and our latest thinking as we push the transparency movement forward.

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