Brand owners aim to prove green claims

24 November 2011

NEW YORK: Companies like Office Depot, Kimberly-Clark and American Electrical Power are taking a rigorous approach to proving their ecological claims, helping avoid accusations of "greenwashing".

Office Depot, the retailer, received widespread criticism in 2003 concerning its sustainability credentials. In response, the firm stopped trading with a paper supplier argued to be involved in illegal logging, and began monitoring its carbon footprint.

Since then, it has engaged in a broad range of relevant activities, from selling greater numbers of recycled products to cutting its CO2 emissions, and has used independent audits to track progress.

Yalmaz Siddiqui, Office Depot's head of environmental strategy, told Reuters: "We want to showcase our performance accurately and positively without sugar-coating metrics."

American Electrical Power, the utilities provider, carried out internal audits on its output, partly as a result of the – not inconsiderable – cost attached to bringing in a third party.

However, it also believes this process is important given almost every organisation is pursuing similar activities, so that finite details are now key to demonstrating a real commitment to the issue.

"Plenty of companies are taking actions to reduce their environmental footprints," said Sandy Nessing, head of sustainability at American Electric Power.

Elsewhere, Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, and the United Parcel Service, the delivery specialist, have commissioned audits in the past two years.

"There are reports that are leaving out essential information that's needed to make them not 'greenwashing' and not fundamentally misleading," warned Sanford Lewis, a counsel for the Investor Environmental Health Network.

Kimberly-Clark, the consumer goods firm, was lobbied by Greenpeace for five years. The advocacy group suggested Kimberly-Clark sourced pulp from forests which were at risk, and then "misled" people in its official report.

Alongside having its annual report assessed by an expert consultant and independent advisory board, Kimberly-Clark also partnered with Greenpeace to establish the best way to buy fibre.

"We don't believe we misled anyone," Kay Jackson, from Kimberly-Clark, said, adding that its recent initiatives have "raised the bar" in this area.

Data sourced from Reuters; additional content by Warc staff