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Greenwashing: What Is It, and How Does Domtar Avoid It?

Many businesses try to appear sustainable, but is what they're doing greenwashing?

As people across the globe become more aware of environmental issues and healthy living, the desire for green products and services is growing. But with all the various eco labels and environmentally friendly claims made by products these days, how can consumers know which labels are accurate and which fall into the category of greenwashing?

According to the Ecolabel Index, there are more than 400 eco labels in the marketplace, each claiming some sort of sustainability-related benefit associated with a product or service. Consumers are enticed by claims that products are eco-friendly, organic, natural and green, and the number of products purporting these claims is increasing.

With eco credentials proliferating and corporations looking to capitalize on the sustainability trend, the practice of greenwashing — that is, making exaggerated or false claims to convince consumers a product is environmentally friendly — is becoming more common. The phenomenon gets its name through a coupling of concepts: environmental soundness (i.e., green) and the misrepresentation of ideas (whitewashing).

Among the most notable recent examples: Volkswagen, which manufactured 600,000 so-called clean diesel vehicle engines that were much less environmentally sound than advertised.

Domtar Advocates Against Greenwashing

Domtar, North America’s largest integrated producer of uncoated freesheet paper, has long been a leader in sustainable manufacturing. We also have worked to strictly adhere to the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (also called the FTC Green Guides), which were first released in 1992.

Last updated in 2013, the Green Guides help protect consumers against greenwashing by requiring marketers to substantiate environmental impact statements with analysis of a product’s actual environmental impact. For example, the FTC prohibits companies from making broad, unsupported statements — such as that their products “green” and “eco-friendly,” which are difficult to prove.

The Green Guides also address other types of environmental marketing claims, including those related to:

  • Degradable and compostable materials
  • Recycled content and material recyclability
  • Renewable energy
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Renewable materials

Domtar works with environmental groups and leading forest-certification programs to ensure continuous improvements to and regular assessments of its sustainability practices. And because Domtar is a trusted voice in this space, we routinely communicate with our customers to ensure that they also apply appropriate environmental marketing strategies.

In recent years, Domtar conducted training for our sales team to empower employees with accurate, proven information about the company’s sustainability leadership while setting strict mandates against greenwashing strategies. We also follow responsible strategies for the labeling of our pulp and paper products and for the certifications and language conveying environmental benefits.

As the trend of clean, environmentally conscious living continues, Domtar will remain an advocate against greenwashing and will maintain the highest standards in all of its sustainability and environmental marketing activities.