For some brands and companies, words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘sustainability’ are more buzzwords than they are philosophies to live by. As a result, ‘greenwashing’ – when companies talk the talk but don’t walk the walk – is more prevalent than ever. Here, KeepCup founder Abigail Forsyth shares some advice on how best to avoid the pretenders.
When I was in year 9, we were shown a documentary about the infamous Milgram experiment. Conducted by social psychologist Stanley Milgram, the experiment involved coaxing participants into administering fake electric shocks to a group of actors. Of course, the participants had no idea the electric shocks were fake, nor that the people they were giving them to were actors.
Following orders from an authority figure, and believing they were assisting in an important experiment, the participants continued administering the electric shocks up to a point that would have been fatal for the actors, had they been real.
Pretty nuts, right?
This profound and unsettling lesson in our willingness to accept things at face value, and to trust authority without question, has stayed with me my whole life. And it’s encouraged me to try and ask why, and to consider the consequences and potential hidden agendas in everything I come across.
It’s this kind of thinking that led to the creation of KeepCup: how can ‘paper’ cups be waterproof? Are they collected for recycling? How are they recycled? The answers to these questions ultimately gave rise a reuse campaign supported by a product. They gave rise to KeepCup.
While Dr. Milgram relied on white lab coats to give his actors a perceived scientific authority, many brands and businesses today achieve authority using the same technique in their marketing. But instead of white lab coats, they use colours (green!), words, claims, logos and branding to give off the impression of being ‘good’, without actually ever having done anything ‘good’.
Yes, there are brands working tirelessly to promote and nurture community, to protect our environment, and to encourage better practices, ideas and decisions in our everyday lives. But by the same token, there are many that are capitalising on our growing desire for change without thinking deeply about responsible business and what it really means. Patagonia have long made the point that true sustainability is irreconcilable with current business practice, and that responsible business best practice is, first and foremost, focused on causing less harm to the planet.
The truth is that marketers, brands and businesses aren’t being held to account for the claims they make. Green-coloured packaging is not the same as green thinking. Friendly marketing spiels and taglines are not the same as friendly business practices.
And even if a company tells you their product is compostable, recyclable, or ethically-sourced, how do you know they’re telling the truth? Are they talking about household composting or commercial composting? Is there a better, reusable alternative? Does their website mention anything about their so-called ‘ethically-sourced’ products?
If someone tells you their product is handmade or hand-blown, but that product only costs $30, do you really think you’re being told the whole story? And if it really is handmade, and only cost $30, how much is the person who made it getting paid? Do the companies you are purchasing from pay the living wage?
Even looking at the hospitality industry, if a cup is said to be made out of paper, bamboo, coffee grounds, or cork*, ask yourself: what’s holding it together? What makes it waterproof? Is that silicone band really recyclable? You might not like the answers you find.
The point is that we cannot and should not take things at face value. It’s time to wake up, dig a little deeper, and really question anyone who tries to sell us anything.
And if you can’t find the answers, ask. And keep asking until you get them.
*KeepCup cork bands are made of off cuts from the wine industry. The adhesive holding the product together is 3% of the content, and a vegan adhesive
By Abigail Forsyth, Managing Director and Co-founder at Keepcup
Visit KeepCup for more information on the Reuse Revolution.