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The color of money: Indonesia’s green organizations fight corporate ‘greenwashing’

The Jakarta Post  Thu, August 12, 2021  

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Informing people: Dwi Setyaningtyas, Sustaination’s CEO, strives to raise awareness about greenwashing for a better Earth. (Project Planet Indonesia/Courtesy of Project Planet Indonesia)

JAKARTA – Environmental organizations arae warning people to be wary of what truly lies behind green labels, as more companies hide behind the vague promises and definitions of being sustainable for the sake of profit.

This practice is known as greenwashing.

Cambridge Dictionary defines greenwashing as “behavior or activities that make people believe that a company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is”. Put differently, it is the word to describe when a company’s “green” label is nothing but a marketing ploy.

Project Planet Indonesia has been raising awareness and educating people about what it means to be genuinely sustainable. The Jakarta-based nongovernmental organization is one of many independent entities to release a greenwashing awareness campaign recently.

“Often, greenwashing can be done by not only false advertisements such as adding the word ‘biodegradable’ to a product that is not or creating a campaign, event or even product that takes the attention away from the environmentally damaging activities done by that company,” Cynthia, Project Planet Indonesia’s cofounder, told The Jakarta Post.

Without naming a particular brand, Cynthia explained that “for example, an oil company can create an entirely new ‘brand’ for renewable energy, when in fact, it is not planning to change its main source of income: oil. This rebranding could be in the form of creating a subsidiary company or even a nonprofit organization.

“There’s already a lot of green terms created for greenwashing, words such as ‘zero-emission cars’ are used without considering the carbon emission created in the mining, production and distribution process of electric batteries.”

According to Dwi Sasetyaningtyas, 27, the CEO of Sustaination, another Indonesian green organization, “Green marketing has been done by mineral water businesses that are known as the most polluting companies in the world, with their plastic bottles while using [images of] ‘green’ mountains making ‘green’ claims, such as recyclable plastic bottles, without a guide on how and where the bottles can be recycled.”

An example of such a case was when Greenpeace in 2018 criticized Nestlé’s Plastic Initiative. Greenpeace pointed out that the company did not set clear targets or a timeline to reduce and eventually phase out single-use plastics.

Nestlé, in response, claimed that 100 percent of its packaging would be recyclable or reusable by 2025 and that 88 percent of its total packaging and 62 percent of its plastic packaging was recyclable or reusable — but research told a different story. For instance, a study by Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives found that 17 percent of beach litter in the Philippines was from Nestlé products.

Following the trend

Greenwashing has turned into a trend because, according to Dwi, the market and consumers are slowly shifting toward a more sustainable and ecoconscious lifestyle. Established companies have the urge to keep up with the trend to retain their market share. Thus, instead of changing the entire business model, they try to cope with green marketing or greenwashing.

Sustaination doesn’t have a specific greenwashing campaign, but it focuses on directing people to genuinely green brands.

“We curate local and sustainable products carefully to encourage people to shift their lifestyle toward sustainable living. We always stand by our core values, which are local, sustainable, impactful,” Dwi said.

“Local means 98 percent of our products are locally sourced and made by our partners. Sustainable means we curate our products carefully; they need to be made from sustainable ingredients, packaged and shipped sustainably, and most importantly, can be disposed of responsibly. Impactful means we only choose products that have a positive social, economic and environmental impact.”

Sustaination mainly publishes its content on its Instagram account @sustaination.

Planet Indonesia does the same but has also hosted specific campaigns. One example of an online campaign is the Instagram live talk show Are You Being Greenwashed? Held on March 13, the event featured representatives from ecoconscious brands such as The Body Shop and Lepas Wear, as well as ecofighter Cinta Ruhama Amelz. The guests talked about how greenwashing was prevalent in the fashion, beauty and skincare industries and how to be a wise consumer, choosing the right brands and products to avoid greenwashing.

“But our main fight against greenwashing is our Green Living Project, which is a directory of local and sustainable brands in Indonesia that are filtered through a specific set of criteria before being displayed. We assure the brands that are displayed are genuinely on a journey to sustainability or are in fact selling environmentally responsible services or products,” Project Planet’s Cynthia told the Post.

“We know a lot of consumers get lazy when it comes to doing research on products and their origins, the Green Living Project is a directory that solves that problem.”

Consumer involvement

Project Planet Indonesia believes that greenwashing will always exist to an extent and in a spectrum. Though corporations continue to endanger the environment, its hope is to make regular customers aware of the damage the companies behind their favorite products might be doing.

Unfortunately, it seems that most regular consumers are either uninformed or simply do not care as much as these initiatives do about greenwashing.

Gita Anandya, a 26-year-old social media officer working for a retail shop in Yogyakarta said that while she had bought shoes that were said to be environmentally friendly and made of nonplastic materials, her reasoning was more practical.

“[Honestly, I bought them] because they were a good model and when [the brand] said they were environmentally friendly, I felt more like a good and responsible consumer.”

Another young Indonesian retail customer named Irfan, a 21-year-old IT student in Semarang, Central Java, said he had never paid attention to sustainability issues.

 “I’ve only heard about sustainability recently. All this time, I’ve only been practicing common courtesies such as throwing garbage in its place, and it’s also for cleanliness reasons, not because of awareness of sustainability itself.”

Like many other Indonesians, Irfan viewed environmentally friendly goods as being exclusive.

“I’m also not that wealthy to always buy these environmentally friendly products, so I use cheap products that are not environmentally friendly to save money,” he said.

Cynthia said customers should always research a brand or a company’s track record through reviews, articles and impact reports. She encourages them to call out greenwashing, discuss it in a forum or a blog, and hold companies accountable.

“Lastly, bring your concerns up to your local representatives and voice your concerns and demand for an environmentally sustainable world. It is easy to live in ignorance until you can no longer ignore it,” said Cynthia.

 “Changes have to be made now, and if not by us, then who?”


SOURCE – The Jakarta Post, Indonesia  Thu, August 12, 2021  

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