Study: Banks, Telecoms, Utilities Risk Greenwashing Sanctions for Promoting e-Billing

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Greenwashing sanctions for promoting e-billing? New research is making the case that major U.K. corporates are flouting advertising regulations and risk reporting to the Advertising Standards Authority for promoting electronic billing as good for the environment.

Two Sides, a European initiative to promote the responsible production and use of print and paper, is targeting companies who claim that switching to online communication is better for the environment without supplying verifiable supporting evidence.

In a released statement, Martyn Eustace, the organization’s director, says, “This is misleading to consumers and encourages them not to use paper when, in fact, it may be the sustainable way to communicate. Greenwash of this nature is creating a false impression about the sustainability of print and paper and has a detrimental effect on the print and paper industries.”

According to the study, 45% of major U.K. banks, 70% of its telecoms, and 30% of its utilities risk greenwash sanctions.

Certainly, many corporations — both in the U.K. and in the U.S. — are making a heavy push to get customers to sign up for e-billing. But the switch actually saves these corporations a lot of money. So is it really a “green” initiative or is greenwashing being used to support cost-saving measures? A growing number of voices are claiming the latter.

Two Sides calls it outright misleading.

The majority of these claims are unsubstantiated and damaging to the print and paper industry. The term “paperless” is also disingenuous as the paper, currently used within an organisation to generate a traditional bill or statement, is now being replaced by home or office printing, which is necessary for the many users who still prefer and demand a permanent hard copy.

The linkage made between reducing the use of paper and helping the environment not only creates a misleading impression about the sustainability of print and paper but as these claims are also unsupported by facts they contravene the latest CAP code (Committee for Advertising Practice), which states that environmental “claims must be supported by a high level of substantiation”; and also flout the guidelines set by CSR Europe, the leading European business network for corporate social responsibility, who are clear that “Green claims should be truthful, accurate and able to be substantiated and they should not make comparisons unless the comparison is relevant, clear and specific.”

Two Sides has written to the CEOs and heads of legal department of all the major UK banks, building societies, utility providers, and telecoms. “Major British businesses should be setting an example, not promoting greenwash,” says Eustace. “If these concerns are not addressed, we will lodge a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).”

If corporations want to encourage customers to switch to e-billing because they believe it offers efficiency, few people will have a quarrel with that. But when you consider the environmental footprint of data centers and computer usage, the claim that e-billing is actually better for the environment is starting to inflame the anger of more and more people familiar with the environmental impact of power-driven industries.

Maybe when power is driven by 100% renewable energy, e-billing might be better for the environment. But right now, we’re a long way from that.

In Europe:

  • 44% of the land area is covered by forests
  • 93% of the UK’s paper comes from Europe, where the area of forest has grown by 30% since 1950 and is increasing at a rate of 1.5 million football pitches every year.

Image credit: The Stock Exchange (“money under the mouse,” uploaded by kipcurry)

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