Environmental awareness is on the up. We are now more conscious than ever before of the impact we have on the planet, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Unfortunately, some companies seem willing to cover up their environmentally harmful practices with misleading advertising rather than making a real change.
For example, Tesco was rebuked by the Advertising Standards Authority after it failed to show that its Plant Chef burgers and plant protein-based foods were more environmentally friendly than the meat versions, as it seemed to claim in its marketing.
Earlier, the ASA sanctioned alternative milk companies Alpro and Oatly. The ASA investigated five claims made by Oatly after receiving 109 complaints, resulting in ad bans and a warning to substantiate any future claims.
Similarly, Alpro, another free-from-milk brand, also felt the full force of the ASA’s fury when it broke the rules on greenwashing. Almond milk brand Alpro was warned by the ASA to exercise greater care around its environmental claims. This was regarding a poster that ran on the side of a bus from October 2020. The claims read, ‘Next stop, your recipe to a healthier planet!’ and on the other side, ‘Good for the planet, good for you.’
Some of the biggest examples of greenwashing are “no palm oil” and “palm oil free” products. Over the years, these claims and labelling have misled consumers to believe that “no palm oil” and “palm oil free” products are better than products with sustainable palm oil. In many cases, consumers fail to understand what alternative is used in the product and if the product is more environmentally friendly and sustainable than products with sustainable palm oil.
The “palm oil free” claim is misleading for consumers. It leads them into believing that “free from” products are necessarily better for their health and the environment than those “with”. According to a study by Italian consumer group For Free Choice Institute, which analysed a range of 96 food products, “palm oil free” products were higher in saturated fats and less sustainable.
The corporate attacks on palm oil are especially bizarre. The claim from many brands seems to be that by avoiding using palm oil, they are helping save the planet, especially when it comes to stopping deforestation and protecting the natural habitats of orangutans.
However, all the research in this area shows that palm oil is the most land-efficient of all the major vegetable oils on offer to those companies, so switching away from it and instead picking another vegetable oil to use as an ingredient will actually have a net negative effect in the planet and fuel deforestation even further, because you have to cut down a lot more trees to get the same amount of end product.
Widespread environmental awareness is a good start, but that is not enough to reverse the harmful effects of our impact on the planet, such as climate change and deforestation. Trying to trick consumers by slapping a “palm oil free” label on their packaging is not enough, and consumers are beginning to realise that, as well as regulatory authorities. The walls are closing in on greenwashing.