By Rick Mullen
Maintenance Sales News Associate Editor
Jacquelyn A. Ottman is the founder and principal of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., and an internationally recognized expert on green marketing. Author of several books on the topic, she recently spoke to a group of industry professionals about how to avoid “greenwashing” during an educational session at ISSA/INTERCLEAN® North America 2014. The session was titled, “How to Avoid Greenwashing When Promoting Your Environmentally Sound Initiatives.”
“Greenwashing is probably the biggest barrier to companies that are trying to communicate the environmental benefits of their products,” Ottman told the audience. “Sometimes it seems like you have to have a Ph.D to make a product green, and another Ph.D to figure out how to communicate to consumers concerning green. If you don’t do it right, there are a lot of risks that could cost you a lot of money.
“In a nutshell, greenwashing means misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product.”
Ottman said there is a certain amount of greenwashing that is inadvertent due to lack of awareness, education on scientific issues, etc.; however, the risks are still the same.
“You can be accused of greenwashing from any sector — it could come from the media, consumers, regulators, competitors, scientific community, etc.,” she said. “Such accusations can damage your corporate reputation and your brand’s reputation.”
Ottman said 78 percent of consumers say they would boycott greenwashed products.
Furthermore, she said, “If you ask consumers what they think the terms ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ mean, 40 percent think they mean that a product has a positive impact on the environment. So, the term ‘environmentally friendly’ actually suggests something that is absolutely beneficial to the environment.”
Ottman provided attendees with an overview of guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to help marketers with guidance on how to avoid greenwashing. The FTC Green Guides were first introduced in 1992.
“It is not unusual that the FTC would issue guides for green marketing terms because it has issued guidelines for other kinds of products,” Ottman said. “The FTC updated its Green Guides in 2012, the first time it has been done since 1998.”
According to www.ftc.gov, “The revisions to the FTC’s Green Guides reflect a wide range of public input, including hundreds of consumer and industry comments on previously proposed revisions. They include updates to the existing Guides, as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, ‘green’ certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims.
“Among other modifications, the Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly,’ because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest, as discussed above, that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”
Ottman said: “If I said to you, ‘There is no such thing as a green product,’ what you would say? All products use energy, use up resources and create waste. So no product can really be said to be environmentally friendly, climate friendly, eco-friendly or anything else friendly.”
Ottman underscored that the FTC’s Green Guides are not laws — they are guidelines.
“Many legal cases have been settled based on what the guidelines say,” she said. “The Guides cover business-to-business and consumer claims. They are focused exclusively on the environment. They don’t talk about the triple bottom line of sustainability (an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental and financial), just the environmental portion of it. Also, the Guides don’t really talk about human health. So, there are a lot of green claims that are related to health, but none are covered in the FTC Green Guides.
“Those of you who are suppliers of products and those of you who are purchasing green items from suppliers must be very careful, because sometimes the FTC, or other bodies, will go after suppliers and customers at the same time.”
Ottman outlined what is new and important in the updated FTC Green Guides concerning “green” claims, including:
■ Generalized environmental benefits (“green,” “eco-friendly”) — “Generalized environmental benefit claims cover the use of terms such as ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly’ or ‘climate friendly,’ etc. These terms are not just words … they are considered claims,” Ottman said;
■ Certifications, seals of approvals, endorsements — “The Guides also include certifications, seals and endorsements. They don’t necessarily tell how to build a labeling program from the ground up, for example, but how to use these claims, seals and certifications in marketing to communicate environmental assets,” Ottman said;
■ Carbon offsets — “An example of a carbon offset is when you have a process that is emitting some kind of carbon and you invest in some equipment for forest reclamation projects in South America, thereby offsetting your carbon, allowing you to make a claim that your product is carbon neutral,” Ottman said;
■ Free-of, non-toxic; ozone-safe, ozone-free — “The Guides define a whole range of terms such as ‘free-of,’ ‘ozone-free,’ ‘toxic free,’ ‘recyclable,’ ‘made from renewable materials,’ ‘biodegradable,’ ‘compostable,’ ‘source reduction’ and ‘refillable,’” she said.
Ottman outlined some terms not included in the FTC Green Guides including “energy efficient,” “organic,” “biobased,” “natural” and “sustainable.”
“‘Energy efficient’ is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Energy Star Program,” Ottman said. “Also, ‘organic’ and ‘biobased’ are both programs housed within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”
Ottman gave some examples of greenwashing cases. One such example was a company that claimed its rayon textile products were green because they were made from bamboo. Because the rayon was made from chemically treated bamboo, the claim the products were made from a “natural” substance was determined to be misleading;
■ Avoid generalized environmental claims — “A generalized environmental claim is just a blanket statement saying you are green or are environmentally friendly,” Ottman said;
■ Be specific/tell the whole story, e.g., recyclable, recycled – and how much — “Be as specific as you can. For example, we must be very specific when using the recycling logo, because (it can communicate) two different things to consumers,” Ottman said. “It can communicate a product is ‘recyclable,’ and it also can communicate to consumers that a product is made from ‘recycled content.’ However, some products made from ‘recycled content’ may not be ‘recyclable;’”
■ Be transparent when enlisting support of third parties — “You want to be transparent across the board, especially when enlisting third parties … you have to be very transparent with consumers to let them know who is issuing a particular third-party label,” Ottman said; and,
■ Be clear: what consumers take away is key — “Consumers and business people are confusing biobased with biodegradable, compostable, natural and renewable,” Ottman said. “If you have a product that is certified biobased, that doesn’t necessarily mean that product is going to be biodegradable or compostable or recyclable, etc. For example, there are some biobased plastics that are recyclable, but you can’t compost them.
“The FTC says if you want to say ‘compostable,’ the substance must be able to compost in a backyard system. If it won’t compost in three to six months, in a normal time frame, then you say it is ‘compostable in a municipal composting facility.’ In addition, you can’t say ‘natural’ if your product has gone through some kind of chemical processing.”
Ottman outlined ways a company can underscore its credibility when making green claims, including:
■ Walk your talk;
■ Promote responsible behavior;
■ Be transparent (peek behind the scenes); and,
■ Enlist credible third parties (beyond eco-labels).
Ottman is the author or co-author of five books on green marketing, including The New Rules of Green Marketing (Berrett-Koehler, 2011, www.greenmarketing.com/our-book), which was named a Top 40 Sustainability Book of the Year by Cambridge University (UK), and How to Make Credible Green Marketing Claims: What Marketers Need to Know About the FTC’s 2012 Green Guides (Advertising Age, 2013, www.greenmarketing.com/blog/comments/FTC-Green-Guides-Report/). Website: www.greenmarketing.com.
United Stationers Changes Name To Essendant
“By uniting our brands as Essendant, we provide the exceptional products and services that enable our partners to succeed, while also increasing the convenience and efficiency for our customers,” said Bob Aiken, interim president and chief executive officer.
United Stationers Supply Co., Azerty, LagasseSweet and ORS Nasco came together under the Essendant brand starting in June, and MEDCO will follow soon.
The unified brands have a history of supply-chain management and delivery capabilities, offering next-day delivery to more than 90 percent of the United States and providing more than 160,000 stocked products.
“All of these companies are industry leaders. Now, together, we have a stronger solution with access to more products, more capabilities and more support,” Aiken said.
“Essendant goes beyond essentials to deliver what our resellers need,” said Diane Hund, vice president of marketing for Essendant. “We are no longer just a wholesaler. In addition to a broader portfolio of products, Essendant also provides digital content and capabilities, product and category expertise and marketing support.”
The change in brand name and stock symbol does not affect the validity or transferability of any currently outstanding stock certificates, and the company will not ask shareholders to surrender for exchange any United Stationers Inc. certificates presently held by them.
United Stationers Inc. is a supplier of workplace essentials, with 2014 net sales of $5.3 billion. The company stocks an assortment of over 160,000 items, including technology products, traditional office products, janitorial and breakroom supplies, office furniture, industrial supplies, and automotive aftermarket tools. The company’s 74 distribution centers enable the company to ship most products overnight to more than 90 percent of the United States and major cities in Mexico and Canada.
Visit www.essendant.com or www.unitedstationers.com for more information.
CompuClean® Custodial Management Software Now Offered As A Mobile App
Spartan Chemical Company, Inc., has added the CompuClean® Mobile App for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch and Android™ devices.
“CompuClean®, Spartan’s Custodial Management Software, is making it easier to track and manage cleaning operations whenever and wherever you are, through the new CompuClean App,” said company spokespeople.
“Featuring custom inspection capabilities, CompuClean Mobile makes documenting performance and tracking cleaning issues easy. Inspections are quick and convenient using a mobile device and can even be performed offline. Use it to capture rich, multi-media content including images that reinforce inspection results and create and generate charts and graphs to deliver immediate feedback.”
The CompuClean Mobile App is now available at the App Store for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, as well as Google Play for Android devices. For licensed CompuClean customers, the app is free. To start using CompuClean, contact a Spartan representative. For more information about CompuClean or to find a distributor, visit www.spartanchemical.com.
Spartan Chemical Company has been a formulator and manufacturer of sustainable cleaning and sanitation solutions for the industrial and institutional market since 1956. A U.S. employer, Spartan manufactures products from its manufacturing facility in Maumee, OH, and sells both domestically and internationally through a network of distribution.