Provenance and the fight against Greenwashing

What is Provenance?

Provenance is the history of the ownership and transmission of an object. The term comes to us from the art world, where provenance includes the auction houses, dealers, or galleries that have sold an item, the private or institutional collections in which the item has been held, and exhibitions where the item has been displayed.  Experts are interested in the provenance of an item for several reasons, the most important of which is that well-documented provenance helps confirm that an item is authentic.  The value of an artwork depends on the fact that it isn’t a forgery and provenance help to prove this.

Image Courtesy – Vince Veras

Why do we need to know?

In the past, provenance was based on trust – you knew the local farmer or owner of the corner shop and you therefore had the confidence to believe that these suppliers were honest.  Today, we have access to so many products we cannot rely on trust.  We need clear evidence that producers are doing what they say they are.

Many people are concerned about the origins of the products they buy.  For instance, conscious consumers want to know who made their clothes and feel confident that working conditions are acceptable.  Provenance in food has always been important and in Italy ingredient sourcing is central to food production.  In the UK, some food and drink products have been granted protected geographical status under law.  The idea is to protect the quality and reputation of regional products, promote traditional agricultural activity and to eliminate non-genuine products, which may mislead consumers or be of inferior or different character.  Examples include Melton Mowbray pork pie, Stilton cheese, Cornish clotted cream, Somerset cider brandy or Jersey Royal potatoes.

Image Courtesy – Veeterzy

What is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a play on the term “whitewashing,” which means using misleading information to gloss over bad behaviour.  The term greenwashing was first used widely in 1980’s to describe how some hotels were encouraging consumers to reuse towels to help protect the environment, when this was just a marketing device to help the hotel cut costs and improve its profit margins. You may have experienced this yourself.

When a company or organisation makes environmental claims that it cannot substantiate or exaggerates the environmental impact of its product wilfully misleading customers – this is greenwashing.  Other examples include companies that might claim their products are made from recycled materials or have energy-saving benefits where there is no real evidence. Some of the world’s biggest carbon emitters, such as conventional energy companies, have attempted to rebrand themselves as champions of the environment. Products are ‘greenwashed’ through a process of renaming, rebranding, or repackaging.

A commitment to transparency

  • How can we understand the provenance of the products & services that we buy?
  • How can we be sure that products are authentic or that marketing claims are justified?

These are very important questions especially now that many brands want to appear ‘green’ to attract more customers and investors.  The Government has recently published guidance for businesses about making environmental claims and stresses that there needs to be up-to-date, credible evidence to show that the green claim is true.  Companies need to come clean and make their product supply chains transparent.

“Green claims are genuine when they properly describe the impact of a product, brand, business or service, with evidence to back it up”, Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) 2021

Eco claims need to take into account the whole story of the product or service and should not mislead customers with partially correct or incorrect information.  There is a helpful shoppers charter which reminds us of what is important:

  • Do not just trust slogans or vague terms
  • Look for evidence to support a claim
  • Look past appearances
  • Don’t forget the disposal
  • Think about the bigger picture.

This is quite a lot to consider!

“A good form of proof is a reputable certification mark which indicates an alliance with an environmental standards scheme. You can find out more about these by searching online” CMA, 2021.

There are a wide range of eco labels and certifications that are worth looking out for.  Some like The Soil Association have very high standards and products with this logo are always worth investing in (https://www.soilassociation.org/).  Ecolabel Index is a good place to start for environmental labels (https://www.ecolabelindex.com/ecolabels/?st=country,gb) but if you have particular concerns such as no animal testing, palm oil free or vegan/vegetarian then you need to research more widely.  It is best to look for a key certification first because it is expensive and time consuming for companies to certify and that’s why so many don’t!

At Greenscents, we are passionate about provenance and transparency and that’s why we have certifications with high quality, reputable organisations.  You can trust Greenscents because we have invested in premium ingredients, materials

and procedures to create authentic, genuinely green alternatives for cleaning and laundry.  If you are interested in our wider ethics pleased read our ‘Policies’ section which can be found at the bottom of the home page on our website.  Our policies include the Greenscents carbon management plan, environmental statement and ethical supplier questionnaire.                                                                        Image Courtesy – Markus Spiske

If you have any questions about provenance at Greenscents please contact us at info@greenscents.co.uk.

Further Reading

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-claims-code-for-shoppers/green-claims-code-for-shoppers

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/green-claims-code-making-environmental-claims/green-claims-and-your-business

https://www.themanufacturer.com/articles/conscious-consumer-many-care-provenance-products/

https://ethical-company-organisation.org/the-good-shopping-guide