Your Choice: Green Wash or Green Wise

Your Choice: Green Wash or Green Wise

On the important topic of “Green Procurement and Leadership”, Ken Hickson says there are signs that things are happening around the world “and we can, through effective communication, advocacy and sheer hard work, change mind sets and behaviours”. The branding industry can help by seeing that this is the responsible and ethical way to go. To lead clients beyond green wash to green wise. Read More

Article based on a presentation by Ken Hickson on “Green Procurement and Leadership” at the  “Purpose Matters” forum organised by  Hall & Partners in Singapore on 26 March 2014.

Green Procurement & Leadership

By Ken Hickson

There are signs that things are happening around the world and we can, through effective communication, advocacy and sheer hard work, change mind sets and behaviours. The branding industry can help by seeing that this is the responsible and ethical way to go. To lead clients beyond green wash to green wise.

The subject of the forum was “Purpose Matters” and when Arnaud Frade of Hall and Partners asked me to take part, I willingly took up the mantle on the subject he pointed to: “Green Procurement and Leadership”. Mainly because I had given two talks recently around the same topic and it was close to my green and blue heart.

To procure, according to my reliable Oxford dictionary, is to “obtain by care or effort, acquire or bring about”.

But how much care and attention goes into procurement and purchasing decisions whether by companies, large and small, by Government purchasing officers or by the consumer?

Price is important and whether a product, machine or piece of equipment does the job it is made for.  But how much more important is it for us to know how it is made, what does into its manufacturer, where it comes from and who produced it.

Rather ambitiously I offered to come up with best practices and case studies from Europe, America and Asia Pacific. I also agreed to cover:

             Perceptions of Green Purchasing

             Status of Public Procurement

             Examples of Education and Engagement

             From Green Washing to Green Wise

             Case studies of Industry Leadership

             Opportunities for Green Purchasing Network

For me, no matter what colour you give it, Green Purchasing means six very important things:

             It must incorporate Ethical Production, both in terms of what is produced, where and how,  like the classic Nike case years ago – denied at first but later admitted to and now changed – of using sweatshop labour practices in factories ; 

             It involves Responsible Management, with corporate social responsibility and transparency uppermost. We can think of “sustainable” palm oil and paper products in this regard;

             Sustainable Supply Chains mean just that, and some companies, like Walmart, have gone to a lot of trouble to get every aspect of the supply chain and delivery systems in order;

             How can we create and maintain Consumer Demand for products and services which are “green”, responsibly produced and shipped?  How to produce a discerning consumer?

             Government can have Procurement Policies in place which stress the importance of these factors and produce guidelines for industry and the retail sector.

  • Standards and certification are vital and we are seeing it more and more. Look at the energy mark and safety certifications on electrical appliances.

So we are seeing a movement towards Green Procurement around the world:

•A Government Policy for Green Procurement is a Vital Starting Point

•Some internal policies evolving in Ministries & Agencies in Singapore

•Local & regional encouragement from NGOs, Green groups & industry bodies

•Possible support from European chambers & Japanese companies

The United Nations has just announced a global programme and campaign on Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP), following on from its Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) efforts.

It has set up an information hub or clearing house which refers to “the use of services and related products, which respond to basic needs and bring a better quality of life while minimizing the use of natural resources and toxic materials as well as the emissions of waste and pollutants over the life cycle of the service or product so as not to jeopardize the needs of future generations”.

Japan has provided some distinct leadership in this area with its Public Procurement Policy, which is in reality a Basic Philosophy for Procurement of Eco-Friendly Goods. It includes:

             Environmental attributes in addition to price and quality considerations

             Consideration from environmentally diverse viewpoints:

– Products that contribute to the formation of a socio-economic system through an environmentally sound material cycle

– Products that contribute to reducing greenhouse gases

             Consider reducing environmental impacts throughout the product’s lifecycle, from manufacture to disposal.

             Commit to long-term use, correct utilization, and appropriate disposal of procured goods and services

Japan has made this into Law and requires manufacturers to meet these strict standards and provide information on their products.

It regularises various eco-labelling organisations and maintains international standards.

And Government Ministries and agencies have to incorporate these standards into their purchasing decisions as well as police the regulations.

Of course it goes beyond regulation and enforcement to the very necessary education and engagement required to get everyone on board and to understand why we need to go in this direction.

We could learn from Canada where they have set up the Sustainable Procurement Institute (see to serve the needs of all who buy goods and services and who need to learn how to do this in an environmentally and socially responsible manner and for the lowest life cycle cost. It clearly states:

“Sustainability will be the defining issue in the 21st century in the world of business as organisations recognise competitive and efficiency advantages”.

Its outreach is for purchasing professionals, project managers, property managers, maintenance managers and those entering the purchasing profession.

In addition it can help professional buyers and those who purchase goods in the public, private and non-profit sectors to find sustainability tools and techniques.

It sets out to deliver the highest quality training relating to green procurement, ethical procurement and sustainable procurement, including lowest life cycle cost.

The Institute specialises in sustainability and its connection with procurement. Continuous improvement as new fields in sustainability unfold and new ideas in sustainable procurement emerge internationally.

Working hard behind the scene and spreading the word effectively, in Asia particularly, has been the International Green Purchasing Network. It has been quietly working away for the past ten years and involves at least 20 countries and economies, with worthwhile input from some European countries, the US as well as some representatives from the UN. It’s mission:

•Globally promote the spread of environmentally friendly product and service development and Green Purchasing activities

•Internationally share information and know-how on Green Purchasing and environmentally friendly products and services

•Harmonise the efforts of Green Purchasing and the development of environmentally friendly products and services from a global viewpoint

Europe has set some very high standards for environmentally friendly and ethically produced products and services. It has standardised a European wide labelling systems – see – and covers a vast range of labelled products and services. It is approved and maintained by the European Commission.

From the US we see a very well run programme from the National Kitchen and Bath Association, an industry body which cares about its members and the consumer. It says:

             Consumers want to purchase products that are safe and reliable and good for the environment

             Do business with companies that are committed to protecting the global environment.

             Mission to enhance member success and excellence, promote professionalism and ethical business practices, and provide leadership and direction for the kitchen and bath industry worldwide.

             Become a primary force in the field of sustainability, or green design. We’re expanding our educational programs in this area.

             Committed to helping consumers and professionals understand their options for creating more energy-efficient living spaces, we’ll increase our focus on environmentally friendly products and practices.

For more go to the National Kitchen & Bath Association

Green Wise Not Green Washed

In all this it is important not to be fooled by those who try to cash in on this move to green and try to promote goods and services which are a pale imitation of what they should be.

A definition of green wash: Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image… but perceived to be unfounded or intentionally misleading.

From the UK I came up with 10 signs of greenwash which included:

1.            Fluffy language

2.            Green product versus dirty company

3.            Suggestive pictures

4.            Irrelevant claims

5.            Best in class

6.            Just not credible

7.            Jargon

8.            Imaginary friends

9.            No proof

10.          Outright lying.

Check out the work of BSR – About BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), whose mission is to work with business to create a just and sustainable world. We envision a world in which everyone can lead a prosperous and dignified life within the boundaries of the Earth’s natural resources. See

Also look at the work of Futerra. Its mission is to make sustainable development so desirable it becomes normal. Futerra was founded over a decade ago as a crazy new idea. Today we are the industry leading sustainability communications agency (with the odd crazy idea still).Read about our decade of work and dip into our thought leadership.

Is anyone out there listening? Is anyone doing something about green purchasing, procurement and supply chains? Does it really matter to brands and business?

For some it definitely matters. Marks and Spencers is a very good example:

Plan A is about doing the right thing:

•We launched Plan A in January 2007, setting out 100 commitments to achieve in 5 years.

•We’ve now extended Plan A to 180 commitments to achieve by 2015, with the ultimate goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable major retailer.

•Through Plan A we are working with our customers and our suppliers to combat climate change, reduce waste, use sustainable raw materials, trade ethically, and help our customers to lead healthier lifestyles.

•Explore our Plan A commitments for 2010 – 2015, and watch our Plan A film for 2012 here.

We looked at other case studies of industry leadership from around the world.

From Australia, the work of Ecospecifier Global :

•Home of the Planet’s Leading Certified and Verified Sustainable Products.

• has over 6,700 sustainable products, materials and technologies, making it one of the world’s most expansive sustainable knowledge bases.

•As a Leading Global Source of life-cycle assessed product information, links independent information with a powerful search interface.

• promotes all sustainable products from around the world, specialising in categorisation of products into Building, Hospitality, Health & Beauty, Personal Care and Cleaning Products.

•The database also provides extra categorisation according to the World’s Best Building Rating Schemes such as Green Star and LEED. helps reduce the time and costs of researching the World’s Best Sustainable Products.

We looked at Certified Forests and the work of PEFC, FSC, Double Helix and the printing industry to make people aware of the importance of only buying pulp, paper and timber products from reliable, responsible, environmental and ethical sources.

One of the best examples in the world is still Interface, the world’s leading carpet tile producer:

1.Eliminate Waste

Our goal is to reduce, and where possible, eliminate waste. We define waste as anything that does not add value for our customers.

2. Benign Emissions

We aim to eliminate all emissions that may have a negative impact on natural systems.

3. Renewable Energy

We harness renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and landfill gas in order to reduce our dependency on fossils fuels.

4. Closing the Loop

We redesign processes and products so they can be recovered to make new products. Customers can return their used carpets at their “end of life” to create new carpets.

5. Resource-Efficient Transportation

Through proper planning, our goal is to transport goods and people efficiently and to keep waste and emissions at a minimum.

6. Build Sustainable Communities

We help to create communities that understand the importance of sustainability.

7. Redesign Commerce

With a sustainability-based business model, we aim to influence the entire business world into building a better environment for everyone.

Walmart has set itself apart from others by “Working together for a safe, responsible supply chain”.

The foundation of Walmart’s business has always centered on helping people live better. Applies not only to our customers and associates, but also to the workers who make our products.

WalMart’s Sustainability Index projected to include 300 product categories, engage up to 5,000 suppliers by end of year 2013.

Closer to home, I set out a 12 point plan for what I feel needs to happen in Singapore and elsewhere to make real progress:

1.            Define green purchasing

2.            Promote approved standards, marks, certification

3.            Follow Europe’s example – agree on one unified standard

4.            Follow Green Building Councils– maintain & share standards

5.            Communicate effectively – make your voice heard

6.            Upgrade international website & newsletter

7.            Replace green wash with green wise

8.            Encourage adoption of green procurement policies

9.            Work with manufacturers, distributors, supply chain and retailers

10.          Praise and promote responsible and sustainable producers

11.          Collaborate with NGOs, Government, industries & business

12.          Educate for green consumerism

There are signs that things are happening around the world and we can, through effective communication, advocacy and sheer hard work change mindsets and behaviours. The branding industry can help by seeing that this is the responsible and ethical way to go. To lead clients beyond green wash to greenwise.

I see the importance of partnerships and  performance. Private and public sector co-operation. The involvement and NGOs and community groups. Leadership by manufacturers, suppliers and retailers. A new era of green consumerism.

Ken Hickson is Chairman of the Green Purchasing Network in Singapore, as well as Chairman and CEO of Sustain Ability Showcase Asia – SASA – and Regional Director Asia for Be Sustainable. He is also a Governor of WWF Australia and author of the 2013 book “Race for Sustainability”.



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