OPINION: Navigating greenwashing – a beginner’s guide

By Greg Pilley, managing director, Stroud Brewery

- Last updated on GMT

Don't be fooled by some green claims: Greg Pilley of Stroud Brewery
Don't be fooled by some green claims: Greg Pilley of Stroud Brewery

Related tags greg pilley Social responsibility Stroud Brewery Sustainability

A stream of market research surveys reveal the era of environmental consciousness has arrived.

Consumers are increasingly seeking out businesses that align with their values so they can exercise their purchasing power for the greater good.

The brewing trade and hospitality industry are rapidly embracing this new direction of travel with change and innovation emerging out of the sector. Yet, with no national, standardised accreditation scheme providing validity to sustainability claims, how can consumers or even publicans looking to choose greener suppliers have confidence that they’re making the right choice?

Take for example, the comparison between regenerative agriculture and organic farming. Regenerative. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Positive, caring and maybe even a bit sexy. What about the word ‘organic’? According to a journalist recently, who we were trying to persuade to report on the hop growing research project we’ve been co-ordinating, such stories don’t appeal much to their news editor because organic sounds too posh.

Interesting. As a brewery that’s been fully organic for many years, we’d obviously hope this isn’t the case. However, a closer look behind these two words reveals a deeper issue: the credibility of sustainability claims and ramifications upon consumer trust. 

Regenerative agriculture has had a rapid increase in attention recently. It focuses on soil regeneration and using methods that are more environmentally and nature-friendly.

No official definition

However, there’s no official definition of exactly what it entails, what the beneficial impacts are or any criteria governing the use of the term. It is based on a set of principles and outcomes we would like to see with incremental improvement of the soil and farm. That’s to be encouraged, certainly, but what can the conscientious consumer or publican understand by it? There might be only one small thing changed, such as not using single-use plastic, but this is being used to make broader sustainability or planet friendly claims.

Organic, on the other hand, is a legal set of standards and practices deliberately designed to be environmentally-beneficial, governed by a certification scheme administered by a reliable third party.

The ethos behind regenerative agriculture emerged from the organic movement that also looks to remove toxins from the environment and working within ecological systems to protect soil, water and to provide healthy food.

This lack of robust information and standard verification applies to the consumer world generally, not just the brewing trade, and has led to a rise in greenwashing - the misleading practice of portraying a company or its products as environmentally friendly when their claim is questionable.

At present, there are no agreed standards for environmental sustainability labelling and no agreement on what ‘sustainable production’ should measure: carbon dioxide release, water use, biodiversity impact? So, how can conscientious consumers or publicans make evidence-based decisions about the environmental impact of their purchase and choices?

There are existing reputable schemes involving robust checks and verification of claims: the Carbon Trust operates a carbon footprint labelling​ scheme verifying that a brand is working to measure and reduce a product’s carbon emissions; the well-known Fair Trade​ scheme audits producers, traders and companies to check compliance with its economic, social and environmental standards; and the B Corporation​ movement, which operates a rigorous certification scheme covering all aspects of sustainability including community work and internal governance.

Greater transparency

And, of course, there’s organic: one of the UK’s longest running accreditation schemes, across food, farming, forestry, beauty & wellbeing, fashion & textiles and catering with the best known of the organic certifiers being the Soil Association​.

Moreover, both consumers and publicans can advocate for greater transparency and accountability within the brewing and pub trade by engaging with businesses directly and demanding clearer information about their sustainability efforts.

By voicing concerns and holding businesses accountable for their environmental claims, consumers can help drive positive change within the industry.

Greenwashing poses a significant challenge when businesses prioritise profit over environmental responsibility.

As consumers become increasingly discerning about the products they purchase and the businesses they support, it's crucial to scrutinise claims of sustainability and demand genuine environmental stewardship from breweries and pubs.

Only through transparency, accountability and collective action can we combat greenwashing and foster a truly sustainable brewing and pub industry for future generations.

Related topics Sustainability

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