Sunday, 17 January 2010
If You Like Orangutans Then Don't Eat Chocolate!
Recently, I was watching a very comical documentary presented by Alex Riley called Britain’s Really Disgusting Foods. One of the topics that Alex investigates is the production of palm oil used for producing chocolate. To produce palm oil many South-East Asian rainforests have been cleared and this could cause the orangutan to be extinct within 10 years.
Mars Chocolate UK Ltd recently announced that the Galaxy chocolate bar will be Rainforest Alliance certified in 2010. However, while the cocoa they use in it will be 100% sustainable, the palm oil won’t be.
Alex decides to meet the spokesperson for The Rainforest Alliance and asks him why Mars are allowed to get the Galaxy certified by them when they are using unsustainable palm oil. Alex is told that in order to get The Rainforest Alliance seal of approval the cocoa needs to be from a rainforest certified farm, regardless of whether the palm oil is sustainable or not. One word now enters my head, 'greenwashing!'
Alex then decides to go to the Mars Chocolate UK Ltd Head Office with a lorry full of 'orangutan friendly' palm oil and a group of people dressed up in orangutan costumes. Alex tries to sell the palm oil to Mars; however they decline the offer. This is hardly surprising, would you a buy a lorry full of palm oil from a load of people dressed up in orangutan costumes? I very much doubt it.
A spokesperson then comes out and hands Alex a statement. The statement explains that Mars have now committed to using sustainable palm oil by 2015. You may be thinking that’s a fairly good outcome, but how many orangutans will actually be left in 2015?
Although the documentary was presented in a comical way, the issues raised were quite serious. It has all led me to think about the topic of greenwashing. Before you ask me what greenwashing is, no it isn’t like stonewashing jeans but with grass instead of stones!
Greenwashing is when companies mislead consumers to believe the environmental impact and sustainability of a product is more positive than it actually is. This is exactly what Mars have done with the Galaxy. Consumers see that it’s Rainforest Alliance certified and think that it’s environmentally friendly and saving the rainforest, what they don’t know is that the palm oil used in it is causing the extinction of the orangutan.
I wouldn’t say that I’m a 'tree hugging' type of person, but I’m all up for helping to protect the environment. I bet many of you could probably say the same? Whether you're a 'tree hugger' or not, the environment and sustainablilty is something we all need to understand in order to keep the world going.
Maybe, if more of us knew about greenwashing and how widespread it is then companies wouldn’t get away with it. But on the other hand, this wouldn’t be fair on companies whch communicate their CSR to the public and are making genuine attempts in being 'green', as we may think they are greenwashing' when in fact they aren’t.
Companies may then be put off from communicating their CSR in fear of being accused of greenwashing. Personally, I wouldn’t want to see this happen as I think companies have the right to let people know they are acting responsibly and as a consumer I would want to know when they are demonstrating CSR.
What do you think about all this? Should we find a way to prevent companies from greenwashing or should we let consumers work out for themselves whether they are undertaking genuine CSR or not?