We are committed to the concept of sustainability in its ecological, social and economic dimensions. Time to clear up a big misunderstanding in the ever-present sustainability discourse.
The keyword sustainability has become an integral part of any marketing strategy. In the meantime, a superficial look at the consumer or investor could give the impression that there are almost no more environmentally harmful or anti-social offers on the market, since all companies now want to act sustainably, no matter what. But of course this green marketing slip, which is not always so beautiful, is deceptive in many cases, as can be read in detail in Kathrin Hartmann’s book The Green Lie (2018). And yet it is often not necessary to have an in-depth investigative journalist or an author to uncover the truth. A look into the economic section of a daily newspaper or the indications of where products come from in the supermarket is usually perfectly sufficient to denounce the increasing irrigation of marketing by many large companies in this regard for what it is, namely greenwashing! The principle of greenwashing often follows the scheme: do something good and talk about it, but keep silent about the less beautiful rest.
Omnipresent because lucrative
The reasons for greenwashing on the part of companies are obvious. Ecological as well as social issues have reached the center of society and concern many consumers. At least in relatively wealthy societies, their concerns can no longer be ignored for a longer period of time and therefore increasingly flow into the company’s strategic planning. A pleasant side effect is that, thanks to the sustainability label, higher prices can be charged. This is an aspect that should not be underestimated, particularly in the case of the margins, which are calculated precisely in retail. But greenwashing also pays off as protection against stricter regulations if, according to the liberal creed of self-responsibility, it is said that companies would take the necessary steps for improved sustainability on their own. Endless examples of greenwashing can be found everywhere. For example, aggressively advertised organic products in the supermarket that were not even produced according to the organic guidelines that apply in this country. Or as sustainably advertised organic products that actually comply with organic guidelines, but are carted in from hundreds of kilometers away, even though they could be easily produced in the region. In other cases, individual products or product lines can rightly be declared as sustainably produced. However, you will often have the role of the green figurehead for a company that is otherwise in no way responsible for sustainability. You can see that in the food discounter, for example, where you can buy the far cheaper chicken from Brazilian or Hungarian factory farming, including increased antibiotic residues (a very special form of non-sustainability), a few meters from the chicken from regional organic production. In such cases, companies like to argue with the free choice of the consumer, which is actually not entirely wrong. Nevertheless: In the company’s marketing, the organic chicken will be allowed to serve as a banner for its supposedly lived sustainability, while the cheaper antibiotic chicken from overseas will be left out there. And just as the consumer can determine which product he prefers, the discounter could also freely decide what it is willing to sell and what not. The hide-and-seek game behind the alleged customer needs on the part of the discounters often appears to be rather lying.
It’s not just about organic vs. non-organic
But greenwashing is not just a domain of the food or consumer goods industry, it also regularly takes place in higher spheres. In order to be able to meet the requirements of a morally clear conscience on the part of their investors, many financial service providers now offer green, social or other investments that are praised as sustainable, which are then often used to polish up their corporate identity. But here, too, the following applies: anyone who, in addition to his green and social investments, with which he wants to meet the ethical requirements of some of his customers, continues to happily invest in projects and facilities far from any sustainability in order to deliver the desired higher return to his less morally driven customers , which also has the stamp of green washing on it!
For us at the Spirit of the Game Foundation it is clear that actual sustainability and cost-effectiveness can be combined. The goal of short-term maximization of returns, still the main driver in today’s economy, must remain outside, however, if the sustainability concept is not to become a farce! We understand sustainability as a comprehensive, consistently consistent concept of action, and not as an individual aspect to be emphasized, which can be separated from the other practices of an organization. Because something can only be sustainable in its entirety, just as a human body can only be healthy if none of its organs are too sick.