'Greenwashing' as a barrier to impact

To ensure the success of an XPRIZE, we incorporate planning not just for the competition itself, but also Scaling Impact, or strategies for how these innovative solutions will be applied in the real world and go from breakthrough ideas to impact-driving market products.

The growing demand in this field is often met with Greenwashing - false claims of biodegradability.
What impact activities (consumer awareness, policy support, etc) can be applied to de-risk the market from false claims and ensure the rightful solutions are adopted by companies and consumers? In addition, what can be done to mitigate Greenwashing in general so as to drive towards a market that is still truly sustainable, impactful, and ethically sourced?

What are some additional market barriers we at XPRIZE should be aware of that would potentially keep teams from achieving this identified impact?

@akb @barbswartzentruber @ErnieRogers @thanku @schalkj @iduaolunwa @austinclowes @eakinyi @LHanson @Joanne @Utobou @kjbradford @marsxr @bngejane @renskelynde @kcamphuis @ricardoyudi @NoraEatREAL @neillk @jcoonrod @FranckSaintMartin @Olawale @LaurenTurk @yusuke @janetlee @brandonkion @SteveK8 @ethan @ymedan - would love to hear your insights on how to best mitigate for a transparent and sustainable future for outcomes of the competition!

How about going open source from the get-go? Be completely transparent as to the sources of funds and other drivers that define and steer the crowd-sourcing campaigns, to who stands to profit from the solutions presented, to how others can profit from the freely available info, etc. and openly discuss the obstacles to the implementation of potentially ideal solutions, i.e. politics, massive industry push-back, etc. Be real, not everyone is going to like the best solution.

@nmgraham and @NickAzer It’s great to know that thought goes into supporting the innovations beyond the XPRIZE awards. One of my initial thoughts was about the challenge a small business or startup faces when they create a great invention: patent registration and defending patents. To take out a set of global patents, maintain them, and defend them is a relatively expensive business - unless you happen to be a multi-national corporation. This might, or might not, be a barrier to the successful implementation of an invention by the owner. With regard to this point the XPRIZE Foundation might want to survey past and present participants of challenges to see if they regard this as a significant issue. Do they want patent support or not? If so, is this something the Foundation could help with directly, or indirectly through prize sponsors?

However, as @SteveK8 points out, the alternative is to make everything open source. Personally, I would recommend this option: open source. It has the potential to accelerate the deployment of innovative solutions.

Again it might be worth asking participants their views on open source versus IPR protection/patents. Views might be split on this across participants. Forcing all participants to adopt open source might deter some from entering competitions. Perhaps this is something to reflect on.

@nmgraham and @NickAzer With regard to “Greenwashing … and ensure the rightful solutions are adopted by companies and consumers”…

Here are a few models and ideas that might inspire solutions.

From the consumer perspective a well respected, independent, organisation that objectively reviews products and/or consumables could be helpful to promote the adoption of sustainably produced products / consumables. For example, in the UK, Which? has a good reputation, and here’s a randomly chosen review that looks at the sustainability of a specific product type: How eco-friendly is your washing-up liquid?

Companies recognise the impact such reviews might have on consumer purchasing and so those wishing to develop a good brand and increase sales tend to pay attention to these independent reviews. Depending on the level of detail, and depth, provided by the review this could encourage good practice throughout the supply chain. [And perhaps, in the future also influence attention to Zero Waste and how products / packaging are designed, reused, and recycled.]

However, consumer focused review organisations might not drill down into the details of global supply chains, and so an additional support mechanism might be required. Are there any global, independent, trustworthy, organisations that could take on this role readily? Or does a new system need to be created? Would a mechanism like that used for International Standards (the ISO) be helpful here? For example, the ISO quality standards bodies award certifications for quality based on an organisation’s initial procedures, and they also do periodic checks of those procedures and review evidence. Here’s their thinking: ISO STANDARDS TO PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE GROWTH.

Perhaps there’s also an opportunity to create a web site that supports the above activities and provides transparency for origin, supply chain, retailer, and end of life recycling.

@akb and @SteveK8 Thank you for your insights; your ideas around increasing transparency throughout the supply chain are very interesting and strongly align with challenges we hear more broadly around food systems.

What about the consumer? How can the consumer be “persuaded” to seek the sustainable packaging?

Build it and they will come. Do the right thing. Large marketing budgets indicate unnecessary products. Start small. Partner with one food retailer or fast food joint that wants to be a leader in the area. Eliminate packaging as much as possible (take the tube of toothpaste out of the box). Study what works in other countries. Make available a list of ingredients in the packaging i.e. PTFE (Teflon) in hamburger wrappers, and “wax paper” liners in pizza boxes, etc. Don’t try to persuade people to do things they shouldn’t do. Act with integrity and you and your work will be recognized and appreciated.

With regard to “How can the consumer be “persuaded” to seek the sustainable packaging?” @Eti
Those consumers that already have an environmentally friendly mindset might already use independent reviews on sustainability to influence their purchasing. Clear and clever motivational labelling of the packaging’s sustainability rating might also help. [Would the deterrent attempts used on cigarette packaging be more effective for food packaging - with environmental impact imagery?]

Of course, for many price is a key factor. Taxes might potentially play a role, but as packaging is likely to be a small part of the overall product/food cost its role here might be limited.

Some will adopt good practices and packaging given ongoing information and education about the need for sustainable packaging. This can be communicated in the media via the news, and educational and entertaining programmes; and some may be receptive to celebrity backed endorsements of good practice and sustainable packaging.

From a practical point of view more could be done to improve recycling rates of packaging and reduce litter (which pollutes everywhere, including the oceans):

  • Make it easy for people to bin litter everywhere (general waste and recycling bins)
  • Simplify recycling - make it clear what can be recycled - clear labelling
  • If it can be recycled then recycle it everywhere - one national policy
  • Have bins available everywhere (where people visit) - for general waste and recycling
  • Regularly empty the bins - so people can bin their litter
  • For bins that are not part of the household (e.g. in the streets) consider one recycling bin that accepts all types of recyclable waste [1]
  • Consider what’s required to make recycling (economically) viable
  • Actively enforce litter laws

[1] Recycling efficiencies tend to be higher when recycling waste is separated at source (e.g. the household) as that reduces cross contamination. However, for outdoor activities, perhaps there’s an XPRIZE opportunity for one type of urban recycling bin - accepting all recycling waste. Smart technology in the recycling sorting facility would then efficiently separated out the waste. The best facilities already separate aluminium, iron (and “tin” cans), and different plastics; but there is still room for improvement.

Of course, there’s still the old fashioned option of refundable deposits, when empty packaging is returned.

In a comment above I mentioned ISO. For completeness, perhaps I should also add:

Excellent feedback, @SteveK8 and @akb!

Are there any specific examples from the field of where these kind of partnerships have been done really well - case studies, per se?

Thanks @NickAzer
At a generic level the ISO global partnerships (for quality and environment) work well, and consumer focused sites such as Which? are respected by consumers. Another well known global partnership initiative is Fair Trade. However, studies show that we still have further to go before we have a global system that is widely understood and adopted. The links below shine some light on this topic.

Fair Trade Foods

Multi-Stakeholder Initiatives on Sustainability: A Cross-Disciplinary Review and Research Agenda for Business Ethics

Towards Transparency? Analysing the Sustainability Governance Practices of Ethical Certification

How Transparency into Internal and External Responsibility Initiatives Influences Consumer Choice

Informing sustainable business models with a consumer preference perspective

Beyond consuming ethically? Food citizens, governance, and sustainability

Sustainability sells: Why consumers and clothing brands alike are turning to sustainability as a guiding light

Sustainability Is Still Important to Consumers, But They Want Retailers to Be Transparent

UK consumers demand ethical and sustainable food, says new industry report

#RetailTrends2020: The eco-customer is always right

Great thoughts expressed here. Thanks for the links @akb. At the risk of being a little controversial, I am wondering how financial metrics might be used to minimize the ability to greenwash. How might profit be framed/used to direct intentionality similar to how negative interest rates are used to keep currency flows moving (and keep people from hoarding). Is there a way to capture that essence in the design parameters that might influence the participation beyond a return on investment or similar financial metrics? I am not saying profit and financial metrics aren’t important, but my view of greenwashing is that they are trying to extract without being obvious about it. I am still formulating my thoughts on this and welcome and additional and or contrarian perspectives.

Thanks @Thanku
Regarding the financial dimension, yes there are opportunities to apply taxes as a disincentive to environmentally damaging practices. (Here we have Value Added Tax, or VAT, that seems to have lost its way and purpose. Perhaps this could be scrapped and replaced with an alternative environmental version.) However, the factors and formulas involved in calculating environmental impact are complex and not always clear cut. So the details of such an approach might require some thought… :slight_smile: