Thursday, July 11, 2013

It's A Case of L.L. Beanwash

The L.L. Bean brand used to connote squeaky-clean business practices with a heavy dose of earth friendliness. No more.

The venerable outdoorsy Bean brand is now connected to a rather egregious greenwashing effort – a crude attempt to squeeze extra profits by making unfounded environmental claims.

“Go Paperless and help keep the world green,” advises a recent promotion to holders of L.L. Bean Visa cards. “Paperless statements are . . . better for the environment. Eliminating paper statements conserves trees and energy,” advises an email, without providing a shred of evidence or even a link to anything backing up the claim.

The real culprit may be Barclaycard, the banking organization that actually issues the cards in a partnership with Bean. Barclaycard is apparently behind the promotion – and the business whose coffers would presumably become “greener” if more customers opted out of printed, mailed statements.

The Barclay bank conglomerate’s somewhat sketchy sustainability reporting provides no evidence that its digital processing is inherently more earth friendly than ink on paper. Its main response to climate change is the purchase of carbon credits to offset its 1-million-tons plus annual emissions of greenhouse gases. A fair portion of those emissions apparently were the result of its data centers, which consumed 332 gigawatt hours of energy in 2011, a 4% increase over 2010.

And what about Barclay’s progress in 2012? Who knows – it hasn’t published its environmental data for last year yet. (Note to Barclay: We’re now in the second half of 2013. It’s time to reveal what you did to the earth last year.)

Bean’s environmental efforts – including the use of paper with recycled and sustainably forested fiber, green buildings, and participation in the EPA’s voluntary Climate Leaders program – seem exemplary. But, like Barclay, Bean's sustainability reporting is far less detailed or revealing than what’s typically published by much smaller and less profitable printing and paper companies that are being indirectly slandered by the "Beanwash” campaign.

By allowing its name to be used in such a tawdry fashion, Bean is damaging its credibility and reputation. Could it be another Toshiba, which made unfounded anti-print green claims that ultimately failed to distract attention from its shady environmental record? (See 9 Lessons From Toshiba's No-Print-Day Debacle.)

The good news is that print-oriented industries are fighting back. The latest effort is the Ecographic Challenge issued by the U.S. branch of Two Sides. The non-profit advocacy group will award a $2,500 cash prize to the designer of the infographic that best demonstrates “the sustainability of print and paper in a way that’s fun and easy to understand.” Details are here.

To prime the pump, Deborah Corn of Print Media Centr has created three ecographics that challenge vague claims about switching from print to the coal-fired internet. My favorite is this fun “Save the Batteries! Harvest a Tree” message.

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1 comment:

KOB said...

Two Sides is a group that's addressing this:

In early 2012, Two Sides looked at more than 100 leading U.S. companies, mostly banks, telecoms and utilities, and found that half are using misleading marketing claims about the sustainability of print on paper. Soon after, the organization launched a targeted initiative to end the use of environmental claims that are not based on competent and reliable evidence as defined by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They are contacting company CEOs, general counsels and chief marketing officers directly to offer free help in developing claims that meet best practices for environmental marketing outlined in the FTC’s Green Guides. Since the initiative began, more than 150 additional companies have been identified and added to the list of misleading marketers.

While the process of one-to-one discussions is understandably time-consuming, early successes show that this U.S. initiative is moving toward its goal to match the results of a similar Two Sides effort in the United Kingdom, where 80% of the companies engaged either changed or removed their anti-paper claims.