The adjective “unsustainable” can be used to define things that cannot be upheld nor defended on the level of logical correctness and validity of the arguments. All of us – to a greater or lesser degree – learn as we grow up to immediately categorize what is unsustainable from what is not. Ultimately, we develop an instinct to distinguish those claims that may be – if not true – at least plausible. For the others – those that have no likelihood of being so – we reserve a range of reactions: from bewilderment to hilarity, ending, at times, with anger. Those who have made an unsustainable claim inexorably lose credibility.
In physics, the adjective “sustainable” indicates “a process or a state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely”. Starting from the concept of absence of alterations, in today’s reality this term has centralized many other meanings, until it assumed the substance of a real ethic. In this process, the adjective “sustainable” it is almost overused a lot. It surrounds us daily in the most varied contexts: from environmental issues to social issues, to the marketing of consumer products. Its opposite meaning of “unsustainable” is used less and less, as the main meaning has cancelled the others.
And yet, if we look specifically at companies that use the adjective “sustainable” for their products, we frequently find “unsustainable” cases, or rather “not defensible in terms of logical correctness and validity of the arguments”. In short, not credible.
In recent years, with the growing adherence to the themes of sustainability, we have witnessed the spread of Greenwashing: “a communication or marketing strategy pursued by companies or institutions that present their activities as environmentally sustainable, trying to hide their negative environmental impact”. In essence, this is an attempt to achieve the benefits of a sustainability-focused positioning by boasting about it in whole or in part. For example, by highlighting only certain attributes and shifting attention away from other that actually have a great environmental impact.
Denying has always been much more difficult than affirming. In our world of total connection, it has become even more difficult, so restoring credibility is harder than building it from scratch. For companies that practice greenwashing, the risk is the one run by those who assert the unsustainable: the loss of credibility. In this case, with the aggravating circumstance of the seriousness of the context. It is hard to imagine anything worse for a company than giving the impression of lying about ethical issues.
But even companies that act transparently and correctly can be misunderstood. In a context like that of sustainability, where knowledge is scarce and uncertainty reigns, it is essential to sweep away any doubts. It becomes crucial to make sure that efforts towards sustainability are considered “sustainable”, plausible, not instrumental or, even worse, not mystifying. For this reason, Eumetra has developed a proprietary analysis model aimed at verifying how much the general public considers “sustainable” the promises in the field of product sustainability, as are the specific references, and how likely they are to actually be adopted.
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