What is Greencrowding?

a crowd of people wearing green tee shirts

It’s time for another look at the ins and outs of corporate sustainability and how businesses are navigating the growing environmental concerns of their customers.

We’ve already taken a look at “greenhushing”, where companies deliberately stay silent about their environmental efforts to avoid scrutiny. Today we’re raising the volume to talk about greencrowding.

Want to get in with the green-crowd? Let’s huddle up. 

a handshake with a green forest background

Playing it safe

Greencrowding is when multiple companies in a particular field (e.g. car manufacturers, fashion brands, or tissue makers) fall into step with one another on environmental goals, relying on the collective nature of the group to shield them from criticism. By moving in the herd, doing just as much as their peers but no more, they can benefit from a shared appearance of environmental responsibility without committing to ambitious sustainability targets that might be harder to achieve and draw more attention.

So greencrowding is about safety in numbers. Companies might join industry groups or alliances that set group-wide sustainability goals, which might be less strict than the most ambitious individual targets in the industry. By agreeing on collective goals, companies can, in essence, mark their own homework - deciding just how far they are all willing to go in terms of environmental interventions while protecting the bottom line. If nobody stands out, everyone looks a bit better. 

Here’s some real-world examples. 

clothing on a rail

1. The Fashion Pact

One high-profile example of greencrowding is the Fashion Pact, a global coalition of companies in the fashion and textile industry. Announced in 2019 at the G7 summit, the Fashion Pact is an initiative to reduce the environmental impact of the clothes industry through collective action on environmental aims like achieving net zero by 2050 and restoring biodiversity. Members include huge brands like Adidas, H&M, and Chanel. 

While group action on the environment among 20% of the industry is welcome, critics argue that the collective nature of Fashion Pact commitments allows companies to avoid setting the more ambitious targets that are needed. In a discussion of what is missing from the Fashion Pact, industry activists from Fashion Revolution point out that the goal of cutting out single use plastic by 2030 is not enough - single use plastic needs to be eliminated immediately. They also noted that the key sustainability issue in fashion, the fact that too many clothes are being made, is not addressed by the pact at all. 

an aeroplane taking off

2. Offsetting flights

The airline industry offers another example of greencrowding. Faced with mounting pressure to address their climate footprint, airlines like EasyJet, British Airways, and Lufthansa, introduced measures in the 2010s to “offset” the emissions of their flights.

We’ve addressed offsetting several times on this blog. It’s simply not a proven way of tackling climate change, and in 2021 an investigation by Greenpeace and The Guardian found that the climate offsets being used by commercial airlines were poor quality and in some cases could be doing more harm than good. 

In the last few years, as the tide has begun to turn against offsetting, large airlines like EasyJet and British Airways, while still offering offsetting, have started to shift their focus. If you visit the sustainability pages of these companies today you’ll see less discussion of offsetting and more mention of collaborative efforts to develop hydrogen fuels, which would not emit CO2e emissions. But the timeline for developing these fuels is not clear, and in the meantime global demand for flights is increasing.

a ceramic flush pull

3. Fine to Flush

And finally, an example from our own sector of toilet and tissue products, those pesky wet wipes.

The "Fine to Flush'' initiative was launched in 2019 by Water UK, a trade association representing water and wastewater companies. The aim of the initiative was to reduce sewer blockages caused by non-flushable wipes. Companies that made wet wipes could submit their products for testing to show they could be flushed down the toilet without causing plumbing or environmental issues, and if they passed they’d get a “Fine to Flush” logo that they could put on their products. 

This was very popular among wet wipe manufacturers, and huge names like Andrex, Boots, and Tesco all went for certification. But, as we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, real life sewer systems are complex, and people’s bathroom habits are as well! In practice it was impossible to guarantee that customers would use products in the same way as the testing protocols (e.g. just flushing one sheet at a time), the UK’s environment secretary expressed concern that the phrase “fine to flush” was leading to a confusion among the public that this applied to all wet wipes.

As a result, Water UK decided to withdraw the scheme, focusing instead on broader educational campaigns and encouraging the public to dispose of wipes in bins rather than toilets. 

Naked Sprout factory with sheep

Breaking free of the herd

When it comes to tissue manufacture we’ve broken away from the norm in several ways at Naked Sprout. Here’s our approach.

Set your own goals: Industry-wide initiatives are all well and good, but every company will have a unique manufacturing process, logistics network, and product footprint. So every company should set individual sustainability targets. At Naked Sprout we measure the climate footprint of our unbleached tissue products from cradle to grave, and we take steps to reduce it in line with our own Science-Based targets.

Be transparent and accountable: Bold claims need strong evidence, and companies should be transparent and detailed about their own sustainability efforts and progress. At Naked Sprout we tell our customers how we define “sustainability,” and the raft of measures that go into producing the most sustainable toilet rolls in the UK.   

Colour outside the lines: To make a real difference, companies need to take a creative look at current industry standards rather than sticking to them. We’ve broken from the standard in tissue manufacture by using renewable energy to power our manufacture, with no fossil fuels used to dry our tissue or roll our rolls. We aren’t offsetting our emissions like some other eco toilet roll brands, we’re keeping them low in the first place. 

Keep exploring: Sustainability is an ongoing journey, not a one-time goal. We launched our unbleached toilet rolls in 2020, establishing that it was possible to completely do away with bleach in toilet paper. Since then we’ve kept moving forwards. We’ve cut out fossil fuels from our manufacture, developed and launched unbleached recycled rolls made from packaging waste, and started to transport our products from our factory in Spain to the channel by electrified rail rather than road. 

Naked Sprout cardboard box production


That’s some of the ins and outs of greencrowding, and ways to move away from the herd. 

Collective action is often a good thing; even if a group is moving at the pact of slower members it’s still progress across the board, and progress across the board is what’s needed to tackle climate and sustainability crises. But when it comes to environmental commitments, we think it’s important to see the industry standard as the baseline to improve upon, rather than a way to swerve more ambitious environmental goals.

We always say we know our products aren’t perfect, and it’s true. But we are committed to measuring, reporting on, and improving our impact on the environment, in the hope of finding better ways forward and inspiring change. 

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