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Posts tagged 'Greenwash'

5. What is an epd?

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt 5 from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

‘What is an EPD?’

An environmental product declaration (EPD) is a statement of a product’s ‘ingredients’ and environmental impacts across its lifecycle. In the same way that nutritional labels help consumers compare the health benefits of food items, an EPD enables them to compare the environmental impacts of products.

Why an EPD is not just another eco-label

An EPD is not another eco-label. It is a statement of fact about the environmental impacts of a product. There are no ratings, claims or judgement calls to be made, as there are with eco-labels: an EPD itself doesn’t tell you whether a product is good or bad, green or polluting; it just provides the facts to enable better informed decisions.

In the same way that a chocolate bar with a nutritional label is not necessarily any healthier than a chocolate bar without one, having an EPD does not mean a product is ‘better’ or more sustainable. It does, however, enable customers to compare products and choose the ones that have least impact.

EPDs give you the full picture: for example, data on several environmental impact categories. Your product might be good on global warming potential (e.g. low CO2) but have a high acidification potential (e.g. high SO2) and both parameters have to be reported and not cherry-picked by the company.

How are EPDs created?
The methodology used to obtain an EPD is robust, and the assumptions used in the LCA calculations behind it are standardised. This means that manufacturers cannot manipulate assumptions to favour their own product (by calculating an artificially long life-span, for example). The methodology uses internationally recognised standards; an LCA must be conducted in accordance with ISO 14040 and the EPD must be produced in accordance with ISO 14025. All of this must be verified by an independent third party.

What does an EPD tell you?
A good EPD declaration would disclose the following:

• A list of raw materials and their origin
• A list of chemicals and their origin
• A description of raw material processing and production
• Specifications on the manufacturing of the product, including a breakdown of energy consumption and embodied energy, emissions released, treatment of waste, and packaging and transport
• Information on product use and end of life processing, including treatment of any waste and emissions released
• A table with the LCA results per impact category per lifecycle stage
• Evidence and verification for the calculations. All EPDs need to provide a report showing evidence for verification of the calculations and statements in the EPD

Once all these data about the environmental footprint of the product have been verified by an independent third party auditor, they then need to be captured in a clear and concise declaration.

How EPDs provide full product transparency and why that matters

FPT disclosure based on EPDs empowers and enables all customers, whether they are governments, businesses or consumers, to gain a clear understanding of the total environmental and social impact of a product, including at its end of life.
Providing customers with accurate, impartial third party-certified information about the total footprint of a product allows them to vote through their purchasing decision and to buy the right sustainable product. This will not only have a positive impact on the environment and society but also on competition and innovation. It creates a clearly visible level playing field for companies offering similar products within a sector, and it forces them to compete not only on price and quality but on all aspects that go into the making of a product.

EPDs are inexpensive, contrary to the urban myth

Some people argue that EPDs are very expensive and, especially if you have too many product categories, that it becomes unmanageable. This is like arguing that Unilever or Kraft would find it impossible and very expensive to provide the nutrition facts for all their products, given their product range. Yet they manage.

EPDs are expensive if you don’t do the internal work and you ask a consultant to do all the work for you. You would end up paying from €10,000 to €15,000, which is still much less that what many companies pay for some green labels. To put this into perspective, I have seen companies in the building products sector pay more than €50,000 for various types of green labels and certification schemes of dubious independence and robustness.

Once you invest internally and a small part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) or sustainability team have the ability to perform LCAs, it becomes very inexpensive and EPDs can be done for less than €1000, sometimes even €500. And the information collected is not only of great use externally but for internal purposes and decision-making, mostly substituting for redundant internal reporting.

Example of information contained in a real EPD

Result of the LCA for Microtuft modular PA 6.6 carpet from InterfaceFlor


Next time ‘The Magic Metric That Changed The Car Industry’

… please revisit regularly for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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1 – The Case for Refocusing on Product (Rather than Corporate) Sustainability

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Full Product Transparency bookExcerpt from the book ‘Full Product Transparency

1. The corporate responsibility beauty contest hasn’t taken us that far

WE ARE AT LEAST TEN YEARS ALONG the corporate sustainability journey now, so what really significant changes have we achieved?

Perhaps the business world has focused on the wrong tasks? Could it be that, despite all the carbon neutrality claims, hundreds of Global Reporting Initiative A+ reports and sustainability teams of ten or more people, companies have still not radically redesigned their core products and business models? The answer is that there has been far too much focus on companies wanting to look good, and not nearly enough attention paid to actually performing well. The beauty contest It’s in the blood of companies to compete, to strive to be better than their peers.

That has been the reason for the success of corporate sustainability, because businesses like to vie with each other to be the best in this area. But the end result of all the competition has been to encourage companies to give the impression of looking good while barely changing their ‘business as usual’ model. It’s hard to change the direction of a business, especially in the short term, but the corporate sustainability beauty contest has nonetheless been characterised by a disappointingly low level of achievement.

An entire industry has been created around this beauty contest, including thousands of labels, corporate responsibility (CR) report design agencies, boutique assurance providers, hundreds of awards with infinite categories, materiality matrix mavericks, investor questionnaires consultants, professional stakeholders looking to ‘engage’ with companies and all manner of membership organisations offering support networks for a hefty fee. Service-provider directories in the field typically feature more than 500 such organisations offering to help businesses look more virtuous than their peers – what the marketing guys call ‘differentiation’.

The problem with all this activity is that looking more virtuous doesn’t have anything to do with being more sustainable.

We in the sustainability movement need to ask ourselves honestly whether we are pushing for actual change or whether we are merely helping companies to gloss over big issues by making them compete in irrelevant contests? We offer companies the prospect of being able to make ‘100% natural’ products or to be the first company in their sector to become ‘carbon neutral’. In short, we have been tremendously innovative in coming up with fairly meaningless stuff that is easy and quick to implement, or that can deliver nice stories and marketing claims, but frighteningly ineffective at producing anything that will affect actual performance.

And astonishingly, CEOs are quite happy about their performance.

A 2010 Accenture survey of global CEOs put the last nail in the coffin of CR as it stands. It found that 81% thought sustainability issues were fully embedded into the strategy and operations of their company. Yes, FULLY EMBEDDED! It’s not a joke. It’s actually quite sad that the most senior people don’t get it.

Please someone explain to them that having a CR team reporting to public affairs with a nicely designed 150k report with some cherry-picked case studies and a set of qualitative targets plus a few quantitative targets on quick wins is not ‘fully embedded’! Fully embedded means sustainability is fully taken account of in all the products of the company. You are redesigning your products, your business models, your entire value chain. Yet there is no company in the world that has achieved this. The sustainability movement should brutally tell CEOs that making wishy- washy claims such as ‘Sustainability is part of our DNA’ is just wrong.

Seventy-two percent of CEOs in the same survey felt the strongest motivator for taking action on sustainability issues was ‘strengthening brand, trust and reputation’. Well, here we have the reason we are trapped in this rather useless beauty contest.

Prepare yourself for the next sustainability phase: Full product transparency.

Somebody needs to speak out if we are to move towards something more meaningful. We need a proper comparative benchmark, so that companies can compete on what really matters – and so that the sustainability consultancy industry can sell properly useful transformative services to these companies. This book is aimed at providing this benchmark: products instead of companies.

So the next phase in sustainability has to be truly embedded by being focused on the product. We need to understand clearly the total footprint of a product throughout its lifecycle – that must be the starting point.

There has been some focus at product level but wrongly headed: Green labels.

You may well be asking, ‘Why does it have to be this complicated to choose the most sustainable product? Can’t I just look for a product with a green label?’

It’s not surprising people look for shortcuts to help them decide. After all, few of us have the time to study every purchase we make. That’s why there have been so many people, from gurus, to NGOs, to certification sharks, to industry associations inventing so many lucrative labels that offer ‘quick assurance’ about product sustainability credentials.

But when you look carefully at how some labels are administered, you realise how flawed they are. Most are too easy to obtain, which is obvious because the easier your label is to get, the bigger your market becomes. Most labels are very narrow in scope, measuring the easiest things to measure rather than the big issues. Many lack independent certification or may even be administered by the manufacturers themselves. Many labels duplicate each other, confusing clients and obliging manufacturers to certify the same product several times. Unfortunately, some of the best marketed labels are the least robust.

Today nobody certifies whether a yoghurt or a burger is good for your health. You just get the calories and the nutrition facts and you judge.

This is what this book is arguing for: the environmental impacts of products – Full Product Transparency.

… please revisit for more excerpts from the book ‘Full Product Transparency‘ – or rent/buy by clicking here

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Book ‘Full Product Transparency’ – Author Profile

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Ramon Arratia - Sustainability DirectorOver the next few months I will publish excerpts from my book ‘Full Product Transparency’ on this blog to encourage the use of its content, and spread the message that we need to ‘cut the fluff’ out of sustainability communications, dispel partial truths, and constantly push for stronger corporate responsibility through education and regulation.

You can rent or buy ‘Full Product Transparency’ via this link

Here is my Author profile should you not know who I am or what I do. Thank you so much for taking the time to come to this blog and read the book. We would obviously appreciate your support by spreading the word, and all feedback gratefully received.


” RAMON ARRATIA is a sustainability director with 13 years of practical experience in corporate positions at multinational companies such as Interface, Vodafone and Ericsson.

He was named by The Guardian newspaper as one of the world’s top sustainable business tweeters. He is a strong advocate of product sustainability through his popular blog (you’re here!) and gives 50 speeches a year on the subject. He campaigns for stronger and more efficient European regulation based on product standards, for revisiting corporate sustainability reporting and for many years he led the ‘Cut the Fluff’ campaign against labels, certificates, partial truths, marketing claims and all the components of the old sustainability beauty contest.

Ramon has an MBA from Warwick Business School, a MSC in Quality and Environment from Spain and a degree in chemistry. This mixture of business and technical education has given him a privileged perspective to understand both the geeks (LCA practitioners, academics, engineers) and the geezers (marketing, PR, sales, sustainability consultants). This book has been clearly written with a hybrid ‘geekzer’ mindset. “


‘Full Product Transparency’

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Sustainability Goes Positive- But What’s New?

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A new wave of sustainability strategies has emerged: the net positives. 2012 saw the launch of BT’s Net GoodIKEA’s People & Planet PositiveKingfisher’s Net PositiveO2’s Think Big Blueprint and Pepsi’s Positive Water Impact. Ahead of the curve, Rio Tinto launched its Net Positive Impact biodiversity strategy in 2008. These promises of positive environmental and social impact sound quite different from previous aims of “zero negative impact” (Interface, Mission Zero, 1994), “carbon neutrality” (M&S, Plan A, 2007) and “decoupling” (Unilever, Sustainable Living Plan, 2010).

But do these positively-framed strategies actually represent a change in sustainability management? BT’s Net Good centres around creating more energy efficient products – not an approach that will necessarily mandate radical change at BT, which has been doing sustainability since 1990. But when framed in terms of helping customers to save emissions equivalent to three times the firm’s own impact, the goal sounds ambitious and exciting. Similarly, Kingfisher aims for all its products to enable an “ultimately net positive lifestyle” by 2050 – language that makes our ears prick up but arguably not a timeframe that will require change by current management.

These ambitious, positively packaged strategies reflect a shift in how firms communicate sustainability, rather than how they tackle it. Positive speaking helps to sell the concept of sustainability but the challenges around delivering results are the same as those faced by firms with strategies to reduce, neutralise and decouple impacts. The saying ‘old wine in new bottles’ comes to mind and corporates need to ensure that they can refute this with positive results.

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The corporate responsibility beauty contest hasn’t taken us that far

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We are at least 10 years on the corporate sustainability journey now, so what really significant changes have we achieved? Perhaps the business world has focused on the wrong tasks?

Could it be that, despite all the carbon neutrality claims, hundreds of Global Reporting Initiative A+ reports and sustainability teams of ten or more people, companies have still not radically redesigned their core products and business models?

The answer is that there has been far too much focus on companies wanting to look good, and not nearly enough attention paid to actually performing well.

Focussing on Product rather than Corporate Sustainability is a core theme in my book below. All feedback gratefully received.

Full Product Transparency book

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European Commission Consultation on Delivering more Sustainable Consumption and Production: Our Response

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This is Interface Europe’s response to the European Commission consultation on the possible introduction of EU-wide measures related to sustainable consumption and production (entitled: Consultation on Delivering more Sustainable Consumption and Production).

The consultation looks at green public procurement, the environmental footprint of products (PEFs) and the environmental footprint of organisations (OEF).

At Interface Europe we are particularly interested in PEFs.

The European Commission is beginning to understand the power of full product transparency, as is evident in this latest consultation document.

At Interface we very much welcome this development, as we believe that environmental policies across Europe lack co-ordination.

Our view is that the coordination of all environmental policy instruments is best served by starting from the central point of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), which the EC is calling Product Environmental Footprints (PEFs).

An EPD reveals the ingredients of a product, its methods of production, and the full environmental impact of each stage of its life cycle, measured in several impact categories including impact on climate change (grammes of CO2), water use (litres), and other air emissions (grammes of SO2).

We believe the way forward for corporate sustainability is to use the information gleaned from EPDs to substantially reduce the overall environmental impacts of the products we make, rather than just focusing on cutting the impacts of our own operations.

By concentrating on EPDs, we will automatically cut the impacts of our operations anyway as these are represented in the manufacturing stage of the product life cycle.

Below you will find a few excerpts from our consultation document.  

You can find the full PDF here .

If you have any suggestions, questions or  queries  about this document,  please don’t hesitate to leave a comment.  

If you would like to share this document with individuals that would be interested, we would could very much welcome this.

At Interface we are producing EPDs for all our carpet tiles. We believe the way forward for corporate sustainability is to use the information gleaned from EPDs to substantially reduce the overall environmental impacts of the products we make, rather than just focusing on cutting the impacts of our own operations. By concentrating on EPDs, we will automatically cut the impacts of our operations anyway as these are represented in the manufacturing stage of the product life cycle.

Here are some of the ways in which we believe EPDs can be used to reward those who begin to reduce the environmental impacts of their products:

EPDs as a guarantee against greenwash

Despite the prevalence of greenwash, there is no European-wide agreement on the making of environmental claims. Companies are very fond of making extravagant claims, such as that their factories use ‘100% green electricity’ or that they are ‘carbon neutral’. But the main impacts of products are usually outside company boundaries. EPDs are the only things that show these impacts exactly as they are, across the life cycle.

We therefore advocate a European-wide regulation which stipulates that companies can only make environmental marketing claims that are based on third party certified EPDs. That way greenwash is effectively banished – and companies also have an incentive to carry out EPDs. The French government is exploring this avenue already. Governments should stop wasting money on anti-greenwash guides and awareness-raising, and make sure that companies are only allowed to make claims that can be prove through an EPD.

EPDs as an alternative to dubious green labels

There are too many ‘green labels’ in Europe, and a good deal of them are inadequate or highly dubious. Some companies have labels on their products that are issued by private firms that offer consulting and certification services simultaneously. Many labels are far too easy to obtain, or just focus on a narrow range of issues. Others lack independent certification methods or may even be administered by the manufacturers themselves. Many labels duplicate each other, confusing clients and obliging manufacturers to certify the same product several times. Unfortunately, some of the labels that are best marketed are the least robust.

EPDs are a much better alternative. The concept of full product transparency (producing an EPD where you state your ingredients, production methods and environmental impacts) will give greater re-assurance to buyers and will eventually lead to the demise of bad labels. If every product had an EPD, then there would be no need for any other ‘green’ labelling.

EPDs as a basis for Ecolabels

The consultation paper suggests increasing the marketing budget for the EU’s voluntary Ecolabel. This might be a good idea, but we should fix the Ecolabel criteria first. At the moment there is no credibility in the criteria required to achieve the Ecolabel. Powerful industry lobbies – and countries protecting their industries – manage to impose criteria that are favourable to themselves. In many cases, the criteria for Ecolabels do not take into account the full environmental impacts of a product because they do not include the rigour of a life cycle analysis.

Again, EPDs can provide the solution. There should be an overarching European rule which says that Ecolabels are only awarded to products that have 50% less impact than the typical generic product in their category. For example, a typical carpet tile has 10kgCO2/m2, so Ecolabels should only be awarded for carpets with less than 5kgCO2/m2.

In order to drive radical innovation there should be a ‘golden’ Ecolabel (at a higher level than the normal Ecolabel) which is only awarded to products with 80% less impact than the generic product. That way you create an incentive for companies to go the extra mile.

Once these rules have been introduced to add credibility to the Ecolabel, then we can consider increasing the marketing budget.

EPDs as the foundation for green public procurement

If you had EPDs for all products, it would be easy to know which products have more or less impacts. That would be good news for public procurers, who are struggling to establish which of the products they need to buy is better for the environment. Today everybody is talking about the power of green public procurement, but what’s the point if nobody knows how to buy green?

The EU’s guidelines on green public procurement provide advice based either on complicated criteria and ideas or on generalities such as ‘take into account energy consumption and emissions’. What public procurers really want is clear guidelines and targets. For instance, that they should buy cars with less than 120gCO2/km or rent buildings with heating/cooling requirements of 50kWh/m². With EPDs, we could provide very simple guidance to public procurers on many things. We could provide real data per product, instead of vague advice that is of very little help in making sustainable purchasing decisions.

EPDs as a way to decide on tax incentives

If EPDs were universally adopted, we would have a clear and simple basis for assigning tax benefits to products that have a lower environmental impact. For example, products awarded the Golden Ecolabel on the grounds that they have 80% less environmental impact could also qualify for lower product taxes (eg VAT) over a period of time.

If we don’t provide such tax incentives, who will re-design products with 80% less embodied carbon, apart from a handful of companies with a higher purpose? Business needs clear signals that environmental innovation will be rewarded.

This suggests a way ahead for other products:

  1. Develop a common ‘magic metric’, to be measured by an EPD, based on the full product life cycle impact or at least on the main area of impact.
  2. Set a target for the product, based on that metric, at EU level. Reinforce this with penalties if the target is not met.
  3.  Make it mandatory to have the magic EPD metric visible on all promotional materials and at point of sale. This could be through an easy to understand colour-coded A-G label based on absolute figures.
  4. Create tax regimes and incentives that reinforce the signals given at EU level.
  5. Encourage civil society intermediaries to raise awareness of the issue based on the magic metric.
  6. Release the power of public procurement by providing easy guidance based on the magic metric.


If the EC wants to deliver more sustainable consumption and production, then it must harness the power of full product transparency.

EPDs provide a full picture of a product’s impact throughout its life, rather than a snapshot as that product passes through one business. Companies that focus on EPDs very quickly discover what they need to do to reduce their footprint – whereas those that don’t can spend many years pursuing policies that make little difference, mainly because they don’t have the true picture of where their main impacts are.

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Anti Greenwash guide from the French Government

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The French government has published a report that re-inforces the key messages of our Just the Facts guide

The guide explains what the exact meanings of the generally abused claims such as ‘durable’, ‘bio’, ‘naturel’, ‘responsable’, ‘sans substance x’ or ‘biodegradable’, the terms we discussed in our guide.

It’s great to see governments tackling this issue and providing direction to confused consumers and corporate buyers. Hopefully more governments adopt our anti greenwash and just the facts approach.

See the full report here and for other informative documents see here

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Death to the case study with partial information

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How frustrating (and pointless) it is to read case studies which only have partial information, even though that’s mainly what case studies and articles should be about. ‘The innovative product with low toxicity’ (what about carbon?), ‘the building with zero carbon’ (what about embodied carbon and how do they define zero carbon?), ‘the 100% recycled material’ (downcycled, post consumer or post industrial?).

Yes, unfortunately that’s what many marketers, communicators and journalists love these days. The news, the gimmick, a story. But quick wins in one area often have the wrong impact in other areas.

Cereal advertisement

I am not in favour of rules but I think it should be standard in case studies, advertisements and articles to add a link to the full story: the whole life cycle impact of a product. In a way this has happened with car ads, where they have to disclose the CO2/km. One easy way of promoting full product transparency is to include a link to the environmental product declaration (EPD).

I am not suggesting that every ad, article or case study should have a link to the EPD of the product, however those ones that are talking about how green the products are should have to justify their claims. This approach may get rid of some of the Greenwash we have thrown at us these days too!

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A Green Restaurant with a Sensible Approach!

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What a coincidence! Some days ago I blogged about how bad eco-restaurants are in general with their greenwash, and how little science is behind their marketing, However, I was just invited to the opening of the first Otarian restaurant in the UK (Soho, London), and these guys are great! 


Otarian, London

They have calculated the carbon footprint of each of their meals and have managed to reduce the footprint compared to similar meals, mainly by eliminating the meat which is where most of the impact is. Their marketing focuses on the difference in CO2 and they call it ‘Carbon Credit’, which the customer accumulates in a sort of loyalty card.

A great approach which is based on JUST THE FACTS!

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