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Design Without Greenwash

8 Nov 2022

We wrote a post last year about sustainability in design, that you can read here, but with COP27 currently taking place in Egypt, along with more frequent protests from climate activists, ‘greenwashing’ is currently at the forefront of conversation, and it’s something we can weigh in on from a design point of view. We’re taking a quick look at greenwashing in design vs. What we think brands can focus instead to help towards Carbon neutrality.

So what does Greenwashing Design look-like?

Any misleading or ambiguous language, or design cues that make consumers feel they are making a sustainable and environmentally friendly choice, when in fact it’s equal to, or worse, than its competitors in terms of carbon footprint.

Even as I write this post ‘sustainable’, ‘conscious’,  ‘eco-friendly’ ‘green’ and ‘degradable’ are all loose terminology, with no real measurable, or accountable output. Whereas, ‘compostable’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are more reliable statements.

Muted colours, and particularly green itself are common communicators of ‘eco’ along with imagery of leaves and nature- but there’s no crime against looking eco, so it’s important this can be backed up with legitimate claims.

If consumers become aware that your perceived values don’t match your actions, this isn’t a good look and alienates your following.

What complicates things?

Sometimes, what seems like a more sustainable solution can sometimes have an environmental cost that hasn’t been properly reported, or vetted. Some materials can also have unexpected downsides to their use. For example:

In packaging, kraft (natural brown paper) and card/paper is generally more recyclable and breaks down more easily than plastic. However, things like inks, bleaching chemicals and plastic coatings often used for aesthetic purposes, make paper and card less eco than it may appear.

While plant plastics are questionable, PCR (post-consumer recycled) is worth looking out for and we’re happy to see so many big brands moving towards 100% PCR bottles. This means that less virgin material is used, so we’re re-using rather than creating new waste. 

Where items are being shipped across the world in bulk – the waste from a light, but minimal non-recyclable pouch can be less damaging to the environment than a heavier and/or less robust recyclable container, due to the extra weight, space and relative fuel cost, along with the potential for damage. (Not everything appears as it seems….)

What brands can do to ACTUAlly be greener

  • We believe in honest brands, that recognise areas for improvement and strive to do better where they can. There’s often a balance to make between practicality, cost and sustainability, so we understand that any ‘switch’ should be properly considered, and not just a knee-jerk reaction to the climate crisis.
  • Communication is key – open a conversation with consumers. We’ve designed for brands who value accessibility and practicality over more expensive, ‘buzz-word’ and less reliable materials for a product that will be more environmentally friendly in the long run.
  • Less is more – A sure way to be more environmentally friendly is to reduce the amount of material, resources and processes used, without compromising on their practicality and intended purpose.
  • Be real – If you can’t do more for your brand, show your support, or support campaigns and action groups that campaign to legislate against the world’s worst polluters. You can also offset your carbon emissions, by using tree-planting services and/or other initiatives, as every business has its unavoidable printing, paper and energy consumption.
  • And finally, on a human note – do what’s best by your level of understanding, keep listening and learning and bring people along with you. No misdirected finger-pointing or shaming. 

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