Greenwashing in Indonesia: good or bad news?

More and more companies are making “green” claims in Indonesia, including some with a dubious reputation in terms of environmental governance. Overall, this is a good trend—companies want to capitalize on a green wave, and some are making genuine efforts to reduce their operational impact on the environment. The problem is, in the absence of green labels or consumer awareness, many companies are fooling their markets by making irresponsible claims about measures they claim to be taking. Here are my comments on this matter in the Jakarta Post.

Companies post glossy green claims to gain more profit

Prodita Sabarini ,  The Jakarta Post ,  Jakarta   |  Wed, 01/06/2010 10:56 AM  |  City

It starts from here: A woman takes a picture of a poster depicting an ideal low-energy system for a house, on display at the Green Festival last year. The festival was criticized by Green Map Indonesia because it was sponsored by the Sinar Mas Group, a company that has come under the spotlight for alleged widespread deforestation.  JP/NurhayatiIt starts from here: A woman takes a picture of a poster depicting an ideal low-energy system for a house, on display at the Green Festival last year. The festival was criticized by Green Map Indonesia because it was sponsored by the Sinar Mas Group, a company that has come under the spotlight for alleged widespread deforestation. JP/Nurhayati

A fancy five-star hotel gives guests the choice to infrequently change towels because it’s environmentally friendly. A property development dons a big banner reading it’s a “green project” because it’s planting trees.

Or a supermarket claims it is environmentally friendly by selling reusable grocery bags.

Don’t be fooled.

As the globe warms and the issue of environment becomes more prominent, producers in Jakarta
are claiming to be green to win customers.

There is an increasing practice of “greenwashing,” where companies market products and services using misleading or false environmental claims.

The term greenwashing is taken from whitewashing, meaning to hide, cover or conceal unpleasant facts and details, or manipulate.

“It’s misleading. They’re smart because they take advantage of the feel-good factor.

“But the foundations don’t change,” architecture lecturer and green activist Elisa Sutanudjaja said.

Elisa said property developers used this method. She said developers proclaimed they were green because they planted trees. This was not enough, according to Elisa.

For properties to make green claims, constructions should be energy efficient, areas should support public transport and there should be water catchment areas, among others.

Elisa said that a property developer from the Green Building Council Indonesia was developing an elite housing complex in former unused land in North Jakarta.

The properties have basements connecting to each other, Elisa said. “It used to be land that could absorb water. The basements will impact on water-catchment areas, which contributes to flooding,” she said.

Other greenwashing methods are sponsoring green events such as replanting mangrove forests, but not changing production practice to be more environmentally friendly.

Komunitas Greenlifestyle volunteer Marc-Antoine Dunais said the abundance of “green” messages was positive.

“It means companies consider ‘green’ a selling point for their products and services, providing an opportunity to improve corporate practices, reducing environmental impacts and changing consumer behavior.

“The devil, as usual, is in the details,” he said.

He said that greenwashing was a problem because it abuses consumer trust and reduces incentives for other companies to make honest, credible environmental claims.

“Most importantly, it gives consumers the illusion that there is some kind of ‘go green’ revolution and our environment is better for it,” he said.

“Yes, there is a ‘green’ information revolution, but we should be looking at results.

“Is there less waste and pollution? Are ecosystems in better conditions? Is there more environmental justice?

“These are the questions we need to be asking, especially as we are in a jurisdiction where there is no ‘watchdog’ agency to monitor green claims and make companies accountable,” he said.

A group called Indonesia Bergerak (Indonesia Move) said that it’s currently attempting to create a consumers’ movement for products that promote sustainability and social justice.

“We’re pushing forward because we realize that consumers need to be active in making change,” Indonesia Bergerak chief Tejo Wahyu Djatmiko said.

The group is publishing a bi-monthly free magazine on “green” consumption. Tejo said the group wanted to encourage ethical consumers. “Our consumerism is on a dangerous level. It’s driven by want, not need,” he said.

Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation (YLKI) chairman Husna Zahir said consumers should be more aware about their right to be informed.

Indonesian Center For Environmental Law Rino Subagyo said it was possible to sue companies that made false environmental claims on their products. Husna said there should be a body that could rate whether a product was in line with their “green” claims.

In the US, there are organizations that provide an index on greenwashing. Indonesia does not.
Husna said consumers currently understand their rights to safe products, but they did not understand their rights to products produced sustainably. “This needs to change,” she said.

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