With global warming bubbling at crisis point and two years of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, the way we shop is changing. Last year, ‘recycled’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ spiked as online search terms, and De Beers research revealed that a jewel’s sustainability claims are now just as important as its price when shoppers are deciding what to purchase. With conscious consumerism on the rise, so too is an awareness amongst businesses: If we are to satisfy our clients’ needs, it’s crucial that we keep up.
For ethical brands, reacting to the climate emergency is about adhering to the best possible practise principles; creating products on a small scale to avoid surplus, maintaining transparent supply chains, championing circular materials, engaging in restorative charity work, casting light on environmental exploitation, remaining constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve how we operate as businesses, and working towards certifications that position us as an authority on all of the above.
For some businesses, however, practise is informed by one top priority: maintaining a place in the running. This means reassuring consumers that they are still as relevant and worthy as their competitors. And so, not only evolving is the way that we shop, but the way that we communicate. ‘Ethical’, ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ are buzzwords now cemented firmly in the branding and advertising lexicons, but sadly lots of organisations using them don’t put their money exactly where their mouths are.
In 2021 the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network investigated almost 500 websites making product sustainability claims and found that in 42% of cases the claims were exaggerated, false or deceptive. When UK shoppers alone spend over £41 billion on sustainable goods each year, this is a cause for concern.
Greenwashing, known otherwise as ‘green sheen’, is a deceitful marketing spin used to persuade consumers that an organisation’s products, aims and policies are environmentally friendly whilst the reality doesn’t quite align with their claims.
The term ‘greenwashing’ was first officially recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary in 1999 and is now defined as the ‘activities by a company or an organisation that are intended to make people think that it is concerned about the environment, even if its real business actually harms the environment.’ A common form of greenwash, they explain, is to ‘publicly claim a commitment to the environment while quietly lobbying to avoid regulation.’
As conscious consumers, the majority of us are familiar with the notion of greenwashing by now. But would we feel confident identifying it? The problem with greenwashing is that it very rarely presents itself in the form of outright lies; Instead, we’re up against the art of subtle deception. For a hand navigating the clamorous world of claims, commercials and comparisons, here are some tips for spotting and avoiding greenwashing.
Believe it or not, it ispossible to enjoy the beautiful materials offered up to us by Mother Earth without exploiting our planet’s natural resources. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world working hard every day to develop and provide opportunities for us to do just that. In the context of jewellery, these span from small-scale and artisanal mining communities in Colombia extracting gold without ravaging the natural environment, to diamond dealers in Hatton Garden repurposing beautiful old gemstones for jewellers like us to reuse.
Before you set out, it’s important you take some time to read up on these processes and materials, thinking carefully about how they each align with your personal priorities. The internet is awash with informative content – from webinars to books and directories. If you’re keen to swot up on your knowledge of ethical jewellery, our Creative Director Arabel Lebrusan has given a TEDx talk that you might find useful. Speaking directly with trusted ethical brands can prove really enlightening, too. Once armed with knowledge, you stand in good stead to make informed decisions and sift out any brands that don’t quite adhere to your standards.
Product names and descriptions that allude gently to environmental sustainability can sound appealing, but they’re often a tell-tale sign of superficiality. Terms such as ‘eco-friendly’, ‘green’ or ‘natural’ tell you nothing about the true environmental impact of a product, and can also be inherently misleading. For example, polonium is a metallic element that’s naturally occurring, but it’s also one of the moist poisonous substances known to man. A gram of gold mined on a small artisanal scale might be inherently more environmentally sustainable than a gram extracted from a pit mine that’s two miles wide, but can we really refer to it as ‘sustainable’ if there are no policies in place to ensure the sustainment of the miner’s livelihood, environment or community?
It is illegal for any for any business to engage in false and misleading commercial practises or commercial practises that hide or obfuscate material information, and greenwashing is now a criminal offence in the USA. That being said, there’s no specific anti-greenwashing legislation here in the UK. For this reason, words like ‘sustainable’ are not bound by single legal definitions and so largely uncontrolled. This does not make them dirty words to be avoided at all costs, but it does mean they require a little investigation. Once you’ve scoped out a buzzword, it’s time to dig deep and learn exactly what is meant by it.
Stamps of approval from organisations like PETA and B Corporation are the easiest means of identifying an authentically eco-friendly business. At Lebrusan Studio we’re Fairtrade and Fairmined certified, and celebrate these achievements with special hallmarks from London’s Assay Office.
We go the extra mile to ensure that all of our materials and processes are clearly explained. It’s easy to back up legitimate claims, so if a brand isn’t doing so, they’re probably hiding something.
A business can attempt to balance out their carbon emissions by finding other means to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere; a process called carbon offsetting. These endeavours can be a positive addition to existing sustainability commitments, but sometimes they’re indicative that a more pressing problem is being swept under the rug. Offsetting often allows corporations to make eco-friendly claims whilst they continue to pump impurities into the atmosphere. More effective and legitimate than carbon offsetting is taking steps to cut carbon emissions in the first place.
It’s not uncommon for larger firms with extortionate environmental impact to buy up smaller brands for the means of targeting environmentally conscious consumers. Learning what or who is the ultimate owner of a business can help you to build a complete picture of overall behaviour and decide whether or not it’s really a brand you feel comfortable buying into.
Can a company’s products reallybe classed as low-carbon energy when 96% of its annual spend is on oil and gas? Do you trust that a fast-fashion brand describing their new collection as ‘conscious’ is truly working diligently behind the scenes to ensure their low-budget clothing is timeless, durable and recyclable? Often the answers are right in front of us; don’t be afraid to rely on your common sense.
Brands that invest time and money on ensuring transparent supply chains, minimising their carbon emissions and developing products in a sustainable manner are often not in a position to compete with the prices of brands that don’t. For example, we pay a premium for the privilege of using Fairmined Ecological Gold and conflict-free Canadian diamonds, meaning an engagement ring from Lebrusan Studio costs around 20% more to produce than an engagement ring of industry standard materials.
Part of being a conscious consumer is preparing to spend a little more when we shop. The pay-off? An incomparable feel-good factor, as you rest safe in the knowledge that your purchase hasn’t contributed to any environmental or socioeconomic atrocities for the sake of existing.