Greenwashing in the Office

Jorgen Josefsson, MD of our leading chair supplier, RH, discusses the greener office.

The article, featured on the front page of the office furniture advisory service’s newsletter (issue 48, Spring 2008), covers ‘greenwashing’, the tendency of companies to paint their products with the environmentally friendly brush, so as to increase their credibility and, of course, sales.

Jorgen, to some extent, compares chair manufacturers who say their products are recyclable to food producers who say there food has ‘lower salt’. Of course, ‘lower salt’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the salt content is low, as this claim is an empty one in itself. As the need increases for ‘greener’ office furniture, manufacturers will often make boastful claims that fit this need, regardless of their practical validity. Jorgen uses the following example to illustrate this point:

“Marketing an office task chair as 100% recyclable is good in theory, but in practice – if there is no attached collection and disposal service, what is the likelihood that the chair will actually be recycled following the end of its use? No manager is likely to have the time or the inclination to dismantle a chair, separate its component parts into different recyclable groups and then send it off for processing. More often than not, such items will be disposed of the same way as normal office waste and end up as landfill – or in other terms, not even one per cent recycled, rendering said marketing jargon fairly useless.”

This is not to say that companies should give up making an effort to be greener, of course, more that, on the whole, more effort should go into real ‘green’ products, rather than the marketing which falsifies the validity of the products ‘greenness’. Jorgen suggests that introducing legislation for office furniture similar to the legislation that is in place for electrical equipment would be a massive step forward, as it would encourage the use of natural or recycled materials where possible and would outlaw false claims that have plagued the food industry and have mislead customers.