President’s column – Dario Bisogni: “An anachronism called greenwashing”

Lying about one’s own qualities of sustainability has never been appropriate, but it is even self-defeating in the Europe of the great ecological transition. A reflection by Dario Bisogni, President of Erion WEEE

Engage in misleading advertising, attributing to oneself qualities of eco-sustainability that one does not actually have, lying, cheating. These are the principals that define the behavioural boundaries of greenwashing, the reckless practice with which too many companies around the world, whether large or small, ‘greenwasheverything associated with their work, from products to B2C messages, from industrial processes up to the brand identity itself.

The key objective of greenwashing is to overcome the fiduciary test of sustainability with the public opinion and, above all, with that large part of consumers whose propensity to purchase non-polluting, recyclable products created within virtuous and circular supply chains by ESG certified companies is becoming increasingly evident. In order to stay on the market, from the automotive industry to the food, electronics and textiles sectors, it is necessary to keep up with the times. Times that are today marked by issues such as eco-design of products, recycling of raw materials, ecological transition, zero emissions. Falsely combining these concepts with activities that do not take them into account is what is meant by greenwashing: a real world problem that affects not only the environment but our health and our global economy.

When they proposed me to inaugurate this President’s column, I thought of dealing with the issue of greenwashing (which according to the Cambridge Dictionary means: “Behaviour or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”), precisely to highlight how this practice does not only constitute morally reprehensible behaviours such as unfair competition or the dissemination of misleading messages, but is also also used as a tool by companies to try to appear to be environmentally sustainable and greener than they really are; an error of evaluation that might seem trivial, but that has much wider and complex repercussions on society, finance and the planet itself.

I am a privileged observer of this phenomenon as I have the opportunity to look at it, and attempt to counter it, from two different positions. The first, as General Manager CS of Panasonic, one of the largest and historic technology companies in the world, currently participating in the Green Impact program, developed on the three purposes of the Greenhouse Gas Protocol to drastically reduce, by 2030, the CO2 emissions associated with its direct activities, those of its suppliers and those of its customers. Our vision is clear: we have moved from the 20th century where comfort was the topmost priority, to the 21st century where affluence is meaningless unless it goes hand in hand with a sustainable lifestyle. Companies like us who dictate the pace of technological innovation and social progress, cannot be exempted from respecting this combination of well-being and sustainable life and avoid making any form of compromise, as greenwashing undoubtedly is. It would be enough, as our friends at remind us, to carry out a serious Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on products in order to be truly ‘green’ and ensure that every good produced has low environmental impact from ‘cradle to grave’ or, even better, ‘from cradle to cradle’.

As said above, I am also lucky enough to hold another position that gives me the opportunity every day to “do a job that, if done well, can do good to the world”, and that is my role as President of Erion WEEE, the most important non-profit Collective Scheme for the management of WEEE. This second vantage point gives me the privilege, and the responsibility, of being at the forefront of environmental issues, supporting the growth of an organization that truly strives to make a real contribution to the Circular Economy. When working for a player that, like Erion, has in its DNA values such as quality, transparency, efficiency, innovation and social commitment, the level of attention towards those who act in the opposite way remains high. When you plan a job as part of an agenda made of absolute commitments such as the recycling of materials, the reduction of emissions, the protection of the environment and public health, you learn to clearly distinguish the work of those subjects who wash – or try more or less clumsily – with green color economic dynamics still linked to an anachronistic linear model of production, use and consumption of goods.

The world is changing at a rapid pace, driven by the new generations who, like never before, look to tomorrow starting from today and call for justice in every aspect of life, from education to the environment. A thousand green washes will not be enough to resist unscathed this epochal drive. We really need to change and we need to do it now.