New research, commissioned by worldwide lobbying organisation ‘Two Sides’, has revealed that major global corporations are still using inaccurate and misleading environmental claims to encourage consumers to ‘go paperless’ and switch from paper-based to digital communication. This is despite legislation being introduced by the advertising standards authorities to protect the consumer from being misled.
The survey, undertaken in February 2015, showed that in the UK, there is still a significant proportion of financial service organisations, energy, gas and water suppliers and telecoms businesses that are still making false environmental claims. Similarly, research in the US shows a similar picture with half of the leading Fortune 500 companies in the same sectors were doing the same.
“This is extremely frustrating and unacceptable,” says Martyn Eustace, Chairman of the ‘Two Sides’ initiative. “The fact that marketers in some of the most high profile corporations in the world are still using unsubstantiated and misleading environmental claims to persuade consumers to switch from paper-based to cheaper electronic communication is outrageous. Many consumers still have a strong preference for paper but they are being manipulated by a lack of clear and accurate information, when in fact paper, based on a natural, renewable and recyclable resource, should be considered as a highly sustainable way to communicate.”
He continues, “This behaviour must be tackled and we are therefore going on the offensive once again to educate and inform those responsible of their misconduct and to ensure that such organisations don’t continue to flout the law and mislead their most important asset…their customers.”
Two Sides will be engaging with companies in Europe, the USA, Canada, South America, South Africa and Australia, who have either reneged on undertakings to stop using misleading environmental claims or are now again claiming that switching to online billing and communication is better for the environment without supplying verifiable supporting evidence.
Original UK research completed in 2012 revealed that 70% of Telecoms businesses, 43% of the major banks and 30% of utility companies were all making inaccurate claims about the environmental benefits of switching from paper to digital communication. However, when challenged by ‘Two Sides’, 82% of these companies changed their marketing messages.
In North America, Two Sides has also been successful in converting 30 of the Fortune 500 companies in the same sectors and is in discussion with a further 25 organisations who have yet to comply.
Eustace continues, “Consumers should not be mislead and encouraged to go ‘paperless’, when in fact it may be the sustainable way to communicate. It is just not acceptable to use misleading ‘green’ marketing to encourage customers to receive their bills or communications online, claiming that this is ‘better for the environment’. The majority of these claims are unsubstantiated and the term ‘paperless’ is also disingenuous as many consumers resort to home printing to ensure a permanent hard copy.”
Two Sides maintains that the linkage made between switching from paper to electronic services and helping the environment not only creates a misleading impression about the sustainability of print and paper but, as these claims are also unsupported by facts, they contravene the latest UK CAP code, (Committee for Advertising Practice), flout guidelines by the US Federal Trade Commission and CSR Europe (the leading European business network for corporate social responsibility), and the UK Government department DEFRA.
Phil Riebel, President of Two Sides North America, comments, “Over the past 12 months our campaign has successfully changed over 50% of the misleading marketing claims we have uncovered but there is so much more education to do because the majority of corporate marketers don’t understand the life-cycle and sustainable features of print and paper products – they are marketing based on perception instead of science-based facts.”
Eustace emphasises that, “we are more than willing to engage in a meeting and provide these companies’ marketing and legal departments with all the facts about the sustainability of print media to help ensure that the messages they are sending out to the public and their customers are both factually and environmentally correct. Reporting to authorities is a move of last resort. In fact, we seldom have to do this and find that, working together with corporates is the best way to ensure that consumers remain protected from the increasing greenwash in our society.
The true picture of the excellent environmental benefits of paper is being overlooked by these false messages. In Europe 44% of the land area is covered by forests and 93% of our paper comes from Europe where the area of forest has grown by 30% since 1950 and has been increasing at a rate of 1.5 million football pitches every year.”
“In the US, the latest statistics from the US Department of Agriculture show that net forest land area has increased by 3% in the past 60 years, and wood volume on timberland (number of trees) has increased 58% during the same time period,” adds Riebel.
Eustace concludes: “Paper is a renewable and recyclable product that, if responsibly produced and used, can be a sustainable way to communicate. The forest and paper industries rely on sustainable forests and they are major guardians of this precious and growing resource.”