Dutch consumers less trusting of eco-friendly branding
There is something of a backlash in the Netherlands against biologische (organic) and duurzame (sustainable) products, with a recent survey showing 39 per cent of Dutch people don’t believe the advertising, up from 30 per cent five years ago.
The lack of trust seems to be a combination of cynicism over occurrences of "greenwashing," where companies present their products as greener than they actually are, and a desire to avoid paying higher prices for sustainable goods.
Pure greenwashing is not much more common in the Netherlands, according to consumer website Rank a Brand, which compares and investigates the sustainable claims of brands.
Nonetheless, incidents are not unknown. An investigation by consumer watchdog Foodwatch earlier in 2013 accused Albert Heijn of misleading customers with its puur&eerlijk (pure and honest) brand.
Foodwatch said that rather than being produced, grown or purchased with extra care for people, animals, nature and the environment, as the packaging claimed, the products actually contained "flavour enhancers, E-numbers and inhumanly farmed meat or milk."
Also this year, McDonald’s was named "Lie Beast 2013" by action group Wakker Dier, who claimed that in a television campaign on sustainable choices, the hamburger chain had been silent on the use of "plofkip" (hormone-fed chicken) in their chicken nuggets.
McDonald’s denied they use these sorts of chicken, which Wakker Dier called a "blatant lie."
Lying about certification
There have been instances where companies have been found to be making false claims about their external certification.
One example is a goat’s cheese manufacturer in Overijssel which had its bio-certificate withdrawn after an inspection found that regular and organic goat’s milk was being mixed and a non-permitted preservative was used in the cheese.
Nor is this restricted to food. The German arm of Rank a Brand found that the manufacturer of Mustang Jeans, also for sale in the Netherlands, was claiming to be a full member of the Business Social Compliance Initiative (BSCI) under the "sustainability" heading on its website.
BSCI is an international organisation of companies committed to improving working conditions for workers in low-wage countries. Rank a Brand asked the BSCI if Mustang Jeans was really a member. They were not. Now, BSCI has spoken to the company and the mention on the website has disappeared.
The lack of trust is a worrying development, according to Andre Nijhof, professor in social corporate responsibility at Nyenrode University. He warns that consumers are too eager to distrust green claims, as a good reason to avoid paying extra.
He also said, however, that one incident of being less than honest is enough to ruin a company’s reputation and erode trust in legitimate claims.
"The point is: one incident is enough to undermine the trust. Consumers are rightly critical, and therefore you as a company should never say: our product is fully sustainable and responsible. Identify your ambitions as a company, but be especially open about critical issues."
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