Guest Post: 3M – Principles for Avoiding Greenwashing
Keith Miller is Manager of Environmental Initiatives and Sustainability at 3M, based in St. Paul, Minnesota. Mr. Miller leads the Environmental Initiatives and Sustainability Group within the Environmental, Health and Safety Operations (EHS Operations) organization at 3M. He is responsible for 3M environmental initiatives including Environmental Targets for 2010 (ET’10), Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) and Greenhouse Gas Management. He has been involved in sustainability activities at 3M since 1995 and represents 3M in various environmental and sustainability organizations including the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD).
I spoke at the Conference Board’s annual Business and Sustainability Conference in DC last week. In response to a question on how at 3M we accurately represent the environmental attributes of our products I outlined some principles that we have found very valuable. They have become embedded in the culture at 3M as business as usual, and Kevin asked me if I would share them in a guest post. So here goes – I hope you find them as valuable as we have at 3M. Perhaps they will apply for you in the environmental space, but also in other areas of product marketing claims.
Firstly, there are no blanket statements that ‘this product is green’. We avoid using broad environmental claims such as “safe for the environment” or environmentally friendly”. Claims must be specific and be clear to customers or the general public.
Secondly, claims must be relevant to the product. For example, claiming that a product is cadmium free, when the product has never contained cadmium, and nor have any of its competitors, is not relevant.
Thirdly, that there must be compelling data to substantiate the claim. We need to know the claim is technically accurate.
I think that these are three very important principles. They probably shouldn’t need saying, but I think that they do and I think they will go a long way to avoid greenwashing. At 3M, we implement these principles through our Environmental Marketing Claims Committee. The committee reviews and approves the environmental claims from our business units.
These principles are communicated in our Environmental Marketing Claims Policy. This policy and our review process were established way back in 1990 to ensure that 3M has a coordinated, consistent and responsible approach to environmental claims. I think that it is important for companies marketing in the “green space” to have a business process in place that covers environmental claims.