The Power of Life Cycle Assessment: From Greenwashing to Green Guarding

2nd July 2024

life cycle assessment

In the world of sustainability, making bold environmental claims can be a double-edged sword. A recent incident illustrates this vividly. A company, eager to showcase its product, made a green claim without conducting a thorough Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Unexpectedly, it wasn’t a regulatory body that challenged the claim, but a competitor. This competitor had invested in a rigorous product LCA, ensuring their green claims were substantiated. They took to blogs, social media, and their shared customer base to expose the unsupported claim. The fallout was swift: the company retracted its claim and enlisted the Anthesis Group to conduct a proper LCA of its product.

This story is particularly illuminating in the context of the rising phenomenon of ‘green hushing’—where companies, fearing regulatory backlash, opt to stay silent about their environmental achievements. The underlying fear is that strict regulations may penalise minor missteps, thereby reducing the perceived business benefits of sustainability efforts. Consequently, some companies might shy away from promoting their sustainability initiatives altogether.

However, the story of the unsubstantiated green claim offers a different perspective. It demonstrates that businesses can respond to a more regulated green claims environment not with ‘green hushing’ but with ‘Green Guarding’. This proactive approach involves thoroughly validating environmental claims through rigorous methodologies like LCA, ensuring that claims are not only credible but also defensible, and from this position, holding peers to the same high standard.

The Shift from Greenwashing to Green Guarding

Before the advent of stringent green claims regulations, many companies made unverified assertions about their products’ environmental credentials. These claims were easy to make, inexpensive, and frequently lacked substance. The market was saturated with vague, misleading, and sometimes outright false claims, commonly referred to as greenwashing. This eroded consumer trust and diluted the impact of genuine sustainability efforts.

However, in a regulated market, the landscape of green claims has transformed. The number of claims may have decreased, but their quality has significantly improved. Companies now need to back their claims with solid evidence, typically obtained through comprehensive LCAs. This shift not only enhances the credibility of green claims but also fosters a culture of accountability and transparency.

green guarding

The Role of Life Cycle Assessment in Making Green Claims

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool that evaluates the environmental impacts of a product throughout its entire lifecycle—from raw material extraction, production, and use, to disposal. By analysing the environmental footprint across these stages, LCA provides a holistic view of a product’s sustainability credentials.

For companies, investing in LCA offers several benefits:

  1. Credibility and Trust: Substantiating green claims with LCA builds consumer trust and enhances brand reputation. Customers are more likely to support brands that are able to provide transparent and credible communication about their product’s environmental impact.
  2. Competitive Advantage: Companies that conduct LCAs and make substantiated green claims can distinguish themselves from competitors. They can confidently challenge unsupported claims, positioning themselves as sustainability leaders and Green Guardians.
  3. Regulatory Compliance: As regulations around green claims tighten, having robust LCA evidence ensures compliance and reduces the risk of legal repercussions.
  4. Sustainable Innovation: LCAs can highlight areas for improvement in a product’s lifecycle, guiding companies’ product innovation, avoiding unintended impacts and supporting them to reach company goals, such as net zero.

Celebrating True Sustainability

Regulators have set the stage for credible green claims, but it is the companies that embrace Green Guarding who are truly transforming the market. These organisations not only defend their sustainability credentials but also elevate industry standards, promoting accountable and impactful sustainability practices.

As we move forward, it is worth celebrating the companies that prioritise genuine environmental stewardship over superficial claims. By investing in robust LCAs and adopting the role of Green Guardians, they are paving the way for a more sustainable and trustworthy marketplace. This approach not only benefits their business but also contributes significantly to global sustainability efforts.

Anthesis’ team of Life Cycle Assessment experts are here to guide you through the process of making a green claim and becoming a green guardian. Find out more here or get in touch:

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