Greenwashing and LCA: the sustainability challenge for tissue industry

With the publication of the “Kvikguide til virksomheder om miljømarkedsføring - Quick guide for companies on environmental marketing” - the Danish Ombudsman has recently intervened on the misuse of so-called green claims, the environmental statements that are increasingly used today mainly for marketing purposes. If such claims and slogans are not supported by a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA), it is greenwashing.

author: Ecol Studio SpA

Industry Insight by:

Ecol Studio Spa

Growing attention to greenwashing

The Danish document is not an isolated case. As the number of court rulings on greenwashing increases, the various national enforcement authorities are publishing ‘guidelines’ to support companies in communicating sustainability. This is the case, for example, with the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) “making environmental claims on goods and services for UK markets” published in November 2021. As early as January 2021, the European Commission released the results of an analysis of websites regarding “sustainability” claims on products and services, showing that more than half of them were illegal. Of these misleading green claims, 37% were based on vague and general statements, and the remaining 59% lacked objective information and supporting data.

Preventing greenwashing with life cycle analysis

The Danish document is destined to be a school affair as it states in a general way a principle that has so far only been used by various national enforcement authorities as a specific suggestion or prescription for companies sued for greenwashing or misleading advertising.
Since it is not possible to define any product or service generically as ‘sustainable’, a Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) must be carried out in order to make green claims without running the risk of greenwashing.
Life-Cycle Assessment is an objective method of assessing and quantifying the energy and environmental loads and potential impacts associated with a product, a service, a process or, more generally, an activity throughout its entire life cycle, i.e. from the acquisition of raw materials to its eventual disposal or recovery (from cradle to grave or, even better in a circular perspective, from cradle to cradle). With an LCA behind it, the 59% of sustainability claims incriminated in the Commission’s analysis mentioned above would not have run the risk of greenwashing.

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No LCA, no sustainability

A Life-Cycle Assessment, carried out by a third party, is the only tool that can demonstrate that a product, service or process is actually better from an environmental point of view than similar items, i.e. that it has a significantly lower environmental impact than products/services/processes in the same category. Sustainability is a relative concept that only makes sense when set in a well-defined context through comparisons using objective and agreed methods. We, therefore, expect the Ombudsman’s decision to further strengthen this principle and to help speed up the formulation of harmonised legislation at EU level against greenwashing, as already announced by the European Commission’s Initiative on Substantiating Green Claims.

The contribution of LCA to tissue sustainability

Life-Cycle Assessment proves to be a strategic tool for the Tissue sector not only because it prevents greenwashing at the product marketing stage, legitimising sustainability communication and marketing. If we look at the evolution of the packaging and food contact materials market from a longer-term perspective, the Life Cycle Assessment is essential to be ready for the next challenges of the circular economy. In the game between disposable and reusable products, as is happening with plastics, paper and therefore tissue will also have to play their part.
In this context, carrying out studies, analyses and comparisons in good time will enable the sector to obtain useful data to report on its environmental performance and demonstrate its contribution to sustainability. Want to know more about Life-Cycle Assessment? Ecol Studio experts are at your disposal, contact them without obligation by calling or writing e-mail.


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