In recent months, we have seen a growing number of articles and press releases about the European Commission’s decision to introduce measures aimed at obliging companies to provide scientific evidence to support the environmental and sustainability claims they make about their products.
In an effort to facilitate informed environmental decisions on the part of consumers, the commission is introducing new rules to prevent companies from making misleading statements about the environmental merits of their products and services.
These misleading claims have a name: greenwashing. It is an increasingly common practice that has a direct impact on consumers. In fact, 53% of “green claims” made about products and services in the European Union have been classified as vague, misleading, or based on unsubstantiated information.
Among the services and products which claim to be environmentally friendly, 40% fail to provide any kind of supporting scientific evidence.
This clearly translates into a serious problem: consumer confidence in “green claims” is extremely low.
Key objective: protecting consumers while benefitting companies
Although these new regulations are designed to stop the growing practice of greenwashing, they also offer other direct benefits to consumers. When products and services provide verifiable environmental information, consumers are better informed and can therefore make better purchasing decisions. This in turn facilitates the transition toward positive environmental practices.
At the same time, these regulations can improve the credibility of companies, their value, and the introduction of impactful initiatives to offer sustainable products and services as part of their business strategies.
Greenwashing or overexposure?
The term “sustainability” is bandied about more and more. However, sustainability only makes sense if it can be measured. In the wine world, it needs to offer solutions, not sell more greenwashing, and avoid unsustainable communication about sustainability.
Consumer demands for “more natural”, “healthier”, and socially acceptable wines has led to an explosion of sustainability-related communication.
In many cases, this communication is not only factually incorrect, but also excessive. The same idea has prevailed within the sector for the past five years: “the term and concept of sustainability produces a constant background noise.”
Sustainability has become the leading topic in just about every industry, yet we seem to forget an important factor. When we seek to set our winery apart, we do so through a unique story, and the same applies to sustainable initiatives: if we wish to draw attention to them, we must also present them as something unique. We need to communicate in a way that reveals something new and interesting, that speaks of the future, and nourishes a real, practical exchange.
How does your company communicate its sustainability initiatives?
This might seem like an unusual question, but it is in fact a subject which communication and marketing departments are increasingly focusing on.
Companies in the wine and grape sector were widely lauded as low-pollution, traditional business models with strong ties to the rural environment. Nowadays, however, we know that this does not reflect the reality, and our consumers are also beginning to get a different picture.
Whatever is not communicated gets lost, and we must therefore work on ethical practices that are consistently focused on obtaining results which can be measured with scientific rigour.
The leading role in this area will go to companies that communicate their positive and negative social and environmental impacts honestly and transparently, along with their current actions, objectives, and what remains to be done in the future.
In this regard, certifications help by providing measurable and certified information, but wineries should go even further and work on practical and effective solutions to address specific problems within the sector.
These days, we are navigating different approaches and vocabulary, from “organic” to “sustainable” to “biodynamic”, making it even more necessary to develop the appropriate communication strategies to explain these terms and avoid misleading information.
At a time when more and more wineries are working on implementing and aligning sustainability strategies within their business models, it is important to establish measures, such as common indicators, to eliminate the spread of greenwashing. This will allow us to open yet another channel through which we can work together on tackling and solving problems that affect the entire sector.
Sustainability requires more than lip service; it needs to be put into practice.
Marta Juega, Ph.D.