The CSR Newsletters are a freely-available resource generated as a dynamic complement to the textbook, Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Strategic CSR - Ecolabels

The article in the url below wades into the confusion created by companies’ attempts to greenwash via deceptive labels:
 
“Chemicals, of course, are ubiquitous; everything is made from them. But the question is what products are toxic and what are not. Are there labels available to help us distinguish what is safe and what could pose harm to us?”
 
The worst labels are based on either faulty science or on consumer fears (fed by media campaigns) that fly in the face of science:
 
“There has also been a proliferation of labels targeting specific chemicals in packaging, with ‘BPA free’ and ‘phthalate free’ the two most prominent. … So, should consumers feel safer buying a product labelled “BPA free”? No. Even if BPA was harmful – and the weight of evidence suggests it is not – manufacturers have to substitute the demonised chemical with another. The most common replacement for BPA is BPS – a chemically similar ingredient whose only virtue is that it is less tested. Yet its profile is actually more toxic and, unlike BPA, it is non-biodegradable. In this case a ‘BPA free’ label is utterly deceptive.”
 
The key to an effectively misleading label is either to provide too much information, use ambiguous terms that do not have any standardized meaning (such as “natural”), or replace science with ideology in ways that push specific causes, rather than focus on consumer safety:
 
“In 2012, the Washington DC based anti-chemical NGO Environmental Working Group unveiled its online Guide to Healthy Living. … Seventh Generation, the US-based household and personal care products company founded on a commitment to sustainability, has felt the wrath of EWG’s misplaced idealism. … Seventh Generation’s detergents contain boric acid, a harmless chemical – as used – that stabilises its products. Boric acid is also an antiseptic used in vaginal douches and acne medicine. Like many other chemicals that regulatory agencies have determined to be safe, it’s been labelled an ‘endocrine disruptor’ by anti-chemical campaigners – in this case on the basis of one study of borax mine workers exposed to industrial quantities.”
 
Ultimately:
 
“For chemical ecolabels to work, they must be based on consistent, transparent, meaningful and verifiable standards.”
 
Until they are (supported by universally accepted standards and policed by a broadly-recognized authority), labels will continue to confuse. As such, they will continue to provide an economic opportunity for those firms that are willing to take advantage of that confusion.
 
Take care
David
 
David Chandler & Bill Werther
 
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: http://www.sagepub.com/chandler3e/
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: http://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
 
 
Ecolabels: Chemical reactions
By Jon Entine
June 4, 2013
Ethical Corporate Magazine