Greenwashing, or making false sustainability claims, has been an industry-wide phenomenon, with 40% of company green statements being misleading. Its sibling, bluewashing, or making false social impact claims, is equally as challenging. Whether these are due to misinformation or marketing tactics, the fact remains that consumer and industry knowledge on the matter needs to improve. Aside from the UK’s recent Green Claims Code and 4A’s Greenwashing and Advertising guide, there are few legislative tools in place. Thankfully, companies are teaming up to tackle these matters head-on while governments are filing the paperwork.
UK-based, blockchain-driven sustainability technology platform Provenance, which recently obtained a financial boost of $5 million in seed funding, has already lent its work in environmental and social impact verification towards the likes of Cult Beauty. Now US e-commerce platform Beauty Heroes has become the company’s first US retail partner. “I founded Beauty Heroes to showcase and celebrate truly healthy beauty brands, and communicating their planet positive initiatives is an integral part of our content-forward marketing style. Because of this, Provenance makes so much sense,” founder and CEO Jeannie Jarnot tells BeautyMatter. Shoppers can now explore the verified sustainability claims of companies and individual products, from vegan formulations and female-founded businesses to recyclable packaging and clinical testing. “Brands have a responsibility, retailers have a responsibility and consumers have a responsibility to do better for the planet. This intersection is where Beauty Heroes plays. And Provenance is helping us do it more transparently,” she adds.
“As shoppers continue to change their purchasing preferences based on sustainability, the opportunity for brands to leapfrog competitors and appeal to shopper demand is immense. But many, intentionally or unintentionally, are misleading shoppers,” Jessi Baker, CEO and founder of Provenance, explains. “The beauty industry has a lot to answer for in terms of ambiguous language and ‘blue-washing,’ but we know misleading claims, in all forms, are the enemy of progress in service of people and the planet. That’s why Provenance is excited to work with more retailers and brands to help enable commerce as a force of good and ensure products have credible claims.”
Provenance currently has a network of more than 150 brands, including the likes of Pai, Captain Blankenship, and Innersense Organic Beauty, and is hoping to broaden this reach. Equally, Beauty Heroes is currently aiming to onboard all the 115 brands in total sold on its platform to partake in Provenance’s transparency efforts, be it on Beauty Heroes directly or their own D2C sites. The partners are also planning to release more joint content in the near future.
With the FTC due to update its Green Guides this year, the use of transparency tools will undoubtedly rise. “Moving beyond just a moral compass, some are taking it further and policing these codes. We’ve seen lawsuits target not only the claims themselves but also scrutinising the reliability of the data used to back them up,” Baker states, pointing to the potential ban of the Higg Index (a sustainable apparel standard) in Norway and the banning of Oatly advertisements with unsubstantiated environmental claims. She sees the EU’s development of life cycle analysis tools like the Product Environmental Footprint and the Organisation Environmental Footprint as steps in the right direction, adding: “With more businesses adopting the same measurement approach, the greater comparability of the data behind the claims there will be for legislators and shoppers alike.”
And while consumers have been quick to call out companies or make ample use of ingredient-checking apps, ultimately the industry needs to lead. “I don’t think it’s the burden of the consumer to reduce green- and blue-washing. It’s not their job to regulate companies. Consumers can let companies know if they value their initiatives and of course consumers should buy from brands they trust to be better for the environment,” Jarnot states. In essence, voting with their dollars, and this is where partnerships like Beauty Heroes and Provenance are useful in getting the facts out in the open as opposed to hiding in the fine print of product or website FAQs.
A majority of the industry is having its challenges catching up to sustainability developments, and matters aren’t always as clear-cut as they may seem. “There is a lot of confusion in the space about the best way to pursue a planet-positive strategy for a beauty brand,” Jarnot explains. “It’s important to remember that environmental initiatives are costly and reduce a company's bottom line. Companies need to balance sustainable initiatives and running a sustainable, profitable business.” Younger brands are having the benefit of foresight, with plant positive initiatives built-in from the jump, whereas heritage brands have the more challenging obstacle of overhauling their structures from the ground up. But Jarnot is confident that the effort is worth the outcome. “Brands that are genuinely doing the work, will win with consumers,” she states. “Those are the brands that are winning at Beauty Heroes.”
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