Lessons From The Greenwash Police
A few weeks ago I wrote about how the greenwash continues at Nestle Waters as their CEO Kim Jeffery Whines But Still Doesn’t Walk The Walk in a recent Businessweek article. Their Director of Corporate Communications “respectfully disagrees” with the charges.
I would have written about it sooner, but I just noticed this response from Jane Lazgin, Director, Corporate Communications, Nestlé Waters North America:
We’re pleased you agree we should be talking about our Eco-Shape bottles. Like you, we think reducing the plastic content in our bottles is an important step toward a lighter environmental footprint. The Eco-Shape half-liter bottle uses 30% less plastic than the average juice, soda, or other brand of bottled water containers. And, when more than 70 percent of what we drink comes in a bottle or can, why not choose the lightest beverage package?
By making our bottles lighter, we conserve resources and emit less carbon. Because of Eco-Shape, we avoided using 65 million pounds of plastic and reduced our PET greenhouse gas emissions by 8% this year alone. We continue to go even lower, and plan to find ways to use recycled plastic or renewable resources to make our bottles.
However, I respectfully disagree that the bottled water business is “inherently polluting and unsustainable.” We have an impact on the environment, like any consumer product company, and we’re working hard to reduce that impact through LEED-certified plants, efficient water use, source protection and packaging innovations (as Kim pointed out in his BusinessWeek interview). It’s because of steps like these that we believe we have the lightest environmental footprint of any packaged beverage company in the U.S.
Too many bottles end up in landfills – there’s no doubt about that. But we think the issue has less to do with the bottle, and more with the lack of recycling options. While water bottles account for less than 1% of the waste stream in the U.S., we believe that recycling options are woefully inadequate in our country. We are campaigning aggressively for stronger municipal recycling laws to make it easier for customers to turn our bottles in so they can be made into carpeting or fleece jackets, or even recycle bins.
We know we – our company and our industry – have more to do. Please take a look at our 2008 Corporate Citizenship report – our first – for more information on our future goals and past accomplishments. For us, as for any company, environmental improvement is a journey, not a destination.
Director, Corporate Communications
Nestlé Waters North America
I’d like to respond.
Thanks for the response, but….water is just like any consumer product? In this country clean, drinkable water is free. And, in a world where it has become increasing clear that we need to promote production and not just consumption, what is it exactly that you are producing? In most cases bottled water companies are simply processing (at great environmental costs, I might add) and then reselling municipal water that rightfully belongs to everyone. So, what exactly is the consumer benefit bottled water offers? Convenience. Yes. Status. Maybe. But, the reality is that bottled water has significant environmental costs all in the name of convenience and status. That seems like a paltry trade off.
I’d like to believe that companies know how to talk about their eco-improvements. The key is positioning. You should resist the temptation to position improved packaging as being good for the environment. Less harmful does not equal good. So, if you still don’t understand why consumers are upset with you, its because, as mentioned, your ads tout bottled water as a source of environmental reduction and we all know it’s simply not true. And, your ads misrepresent an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems of bottled water. We all know that there is nothing about bottled water, other than eliminating the product category, that will sufficiently reduce the impact on the environment. Consumers will continue to resist this type of advertising because it diminishes the value of legitimate corporate environmental successes. If you care about the environment, that’s simply uncool.
My advice to business owners remains: Businesses and marketing folks need to be honest about what they are selling. When you make an eco-advancement you should shout about it. But you should not use it to misrepresent, mislead or divert. Consumers will resist and then it will up to your Director of Corporate Communications to spend her time posting apologies on blogs across the globe.
What do you think? Greenwash or not?