Noonsong has recently heard the news that global temperatures are rising. After getting to know that the unusual climate conditions are intensifying due to global warming, she started thinking about protecting the environment and became interested in eco-friendly consumption. She found out that various industries, including the food, fashion, and automobile industries, are inducing eco-friendly purchases, and questioned whether these products actually help to protect the environment.
The reason we're looking towards a corporate green trick
As climate disasters have become a hot topic around the world, people are concerned about environmental problems. This interest in the environment is also reflected in consumption. Consumers are starting to consider social values such as eco-friendly, coupled with the trend of "value consumption," where consumers actively express their individual beliefs in their consumption behavior. According to a survey released by the Korea Consumer Agency in June, 90.7 percent of 1,000 adults between the ages of 20 and 60 said they were willing to buy eco-friendly products, and 95.3 percent of them said they would buy eco-friendly products even if they were more expensive than ordinary products. This shows that even if the price is high, they are aiming for "value consumption," followed by making purchases if the company's products meet their beliefs, such as eco-friendliness and fairness. This consumption pattern is also spreading on SNS. The de-plastic movement, called the "Yong-gi-nae Challenge in Korea," is a campaign to pack food or ingredients in multi-use containers to reduce plastic use. Many people have demonstrated their participation in the challenge on their SNS, sharing the perception of environmental protection. Through this influence, eco-friendly consumption is becoming a trend.
As more consumers pursue value consumption, eco-friendly management has become an important strategy for companies to match their values. This is known as Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) management, which refers to a company's actions in protecting the environment and complying with applicable laws and ethics. Recently, as ESG management has become influential, companies are scrambling to put out eco-friendly products and campaigns. In the cosmetic industry, campaigns such as plastic bottle collections, which recycle waste plastic into cosmetic containers can be found. On the other hand, unlike just the promotion of being environmentally friendly, there are increasing cases where effects are exaggerated or only corporate images are changed to eco-friendly. Greenwashing, the so-called "green lie," refers to an act in which a company exaggerates its claims of environmental awareness and protection in advertisements for its products or services, thereby gaining economic benefits from having an eco-friendly image. They use expressions such as "eco-friendly" even though there is no basis for this in the product, it is factually incorrect, or partially misleading. Greenwashing companies focus only on appearances to secure customers rather than efforts to protect the environment.
Eco-friendly business movements
ESG management is being implemented in various fields to meet the needs of consumers who value environmental protection. In the case of the food industry, it has a great impact on the environment due to problems with plastic use, such as packaging materials. In the aftermath of COVID-19, the demand for delivery services and home convenience food has increased along with plastic waste. In this situation, as consumers' demands for waste reduction increase, the food industry is actively introducing eco-friendly packaging methods. They have provided products such as label-free water bottles, bio-PET packaging materials, and have made consumers choose the presence and absence of disposable spoons and chopsticks when ordering delivery to decrease unnecessary plastic use. In addition, the food industry recommends the use of tumblers and is attempting to reduce disposable cups. To maximize consumer participation, a discount strategy has been utilized, which provides discounts when tumblers are used. In this regard, Starbucks has been offering a 400-won discount on beverage prices when using one's own tumbler since January 2022 as well as increasing the accumulation benefits for such uses. One office worker who received this benefit said, "I took a tumbler because I used to have a disposable cup every time I came back from eating with my colleagues during lunch time. Since I received a discount of a few hundred won each time, I started carrying one around."1) It indicates that the company has encouraged constant eco-friendly consumption through discounts while meeting the needs of consumers. As such, new strategies for eco-friendly management continue to emerge in the food industry.
In the fashion industry, fast fashion has acted as a universal distribution structure. Fast fashion means to quickly produce and distribute by reflecting consumers' preferences immediately according to trends. Due to this, it has been recognized as one of the largest waste emissions industries because of inventory and water waste. Therefore, the fashion industry is speeding up ESG management by promoting "sustainability." As part of this sustainability movement, recycling projects, which are clothing collection projects, have been proposed. Companies collect clothing and fabric products that consumers don't use. H&M has carried out its "Garment Collection Project," in which clothes that can be worn as second-hand clothes are sold, and clothes that are not suitable for re-wearing are used in their remake collection. All other clothes and fabrics are processed and reborn as fabric fibers or used to make insulation. Also, secondhand transactions have emerged as another way to solve environmental problems. An office worker said, "I often buy clothes through a used trading app because I think it is economically beneficial, and it helps the environment. I know fashion produces trash, but I can't help but buy the clothes I need, so I think buying secondhand is a good alternative in that situation."2) It shows that the secondhand transaction system presents a virtuous cycle structure that not only encourages eco-friendly behavior but also helps economically. As the number of people who trade secondhand fashion products increases, the fashion industry is applying a secondhand transaction system to recycle clothing. In this regard, the fashion industry is proposing ways to increase the utilization of inventory products so that already-produced clothes can be used in various ways without being thrown away.
The automobile industry is known as a carbon emission industry that generates greenhouse gasses during manufacturing and use. In line with the trend of responding to global climate change, companies have sought to become eco-friendly by promoting ESG management. As a result, they have introduced electric vehicles as eco-friendly car models. They have introduced electric vehicles, which are an eco-friendly alternative to existing internal combustion engine vehicles, due to running on electricity and converting surplus energy into electric energy with a regenerative braking system. In April 2020, Transportation and Environment (T&E), a European transportation NGO, announced that electric vehicles in the European Union (EU) generate about three times less carbon dioxide than internal combustion locomotives, no matter what power they use. Electric cars emit 90 grams of carbon dioxide on average, but diesel cars emit 2.6 times, and gasoline cars emit 2.8 times. This proves that when using a car, people can approach it a little more environmentally by choosing an electric car. The Ministry of Environment provides subsidies to people who buy electric cars and reduces taxes on cars to boost their purchases. According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, only 7.6 percent of the total number of new cars registered in the first quarter of 2023 was electric, but in March, the proportion of electric vehicles increased to 12.5 percent out of a total of 170,000 new cars registered.3) Along with the benefits, the purchase of electric vehicles by value consumers is increasing. In recent years, most of the automobile industry has been conducting eco-friendly management by following the trend of switching from existing internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles.
Lies washing into green
In the food industry, Starbucks is showing eco-friendly management by encouraging the use of tumblers. Starbucks Korea recommends eco-friendly consumption to consumers by designating the 10th of each month as a disposable cup-free day and continuously implementing a campaign to encourage multi-use cups. In September 2021, it held a "Reusable Cup Day" event at stores nationwide to commemorate its 50th anniversary. On this day, more people than usual flocked to buy a limited-edition multi-use cup that was only available for a day. They said it was a global customer event designed to convey an eco-friendly message, but the event was criticized by people because of the multi-use cups, saying that they were practically new plastic waste. Starbucks reusable cups are made of polypropylene, which is stronger than conventional disposable cups and can be used several times, but greenhouse gasses are emitted during the manufacturing, cleaning, and disposal process. Their production and disposal process emits about 3.5 times more than that of disposable cups, so people can get eco-friendly effects when they use them more than four times. According to a consumer who participated in the campaign, she said "Starbucks regularly holds various events, and the products are mostly made of plastic. I think they are trying to sell a lot of drinks by attracting consumers with goods rather than being eco-friendly."4) This suggests that the Starbucks eco-friendly event is marketing for corporate profit, and only profitable aspects are considered. As such, Starbucks has been promoting itself in an eco-friendly way through events, but in fact, it is engaging in greenwashing in that it is still affecting the environment.
This aspect of greenwashing is also seen in the fashion industry. Fast fashion's flagship brand H&M introduced the eco-friendly line "Conscious Collection" and marketed it as being made from organic cotton and using 20 percent less water than regular clothing. However, in July 2021, according to the Changing Markets Foundation (CMF)'s 'Fashion Brands' Addiction to Fossil Fuels,' the products had a synthetic fiber ratio of almost 70 percent and used 20 percent more water than regular clothing. Although it was promoted as using eco-friendly materials, it was made from mostly synthetic fibers, and the amount of water used during the production process was manipulated. This relates to greenwashing in that it did not provide sufficient evidence, such as third-party authentication or reliable information, and advertised false attributes. As such, in the fashion industry, consumers often misunderstand a product as being made of 100% recycled fiber when it is only a part of the item because the exact information is not displayed properly. According to the product information provision notice of 8 Seconds' "Sustainability Label" product line, the proportion of synthetic fibers is listed only as "Exterior: 51% nylon, lining: 100% polyester." It does not specify which of these synthetic fibers are recycled materials and how much of each is used. Baek Na-yoon, an activist at the Korea Federation of Environmental Movement, said, "The recycled fiber ratio is important information to evaluate how eco-friendly the product is. Standards should be established for information disclosure."5) It is difficult to recognize a product as an eco-friendly product because the recycled fiber used in the clothing cannot be known from the product description alone. It seems necessary to transparently disclose the eco-friendly process to consumers in the fashion industry.
The automobile industry has introduced eco-friendly innovative technology called electric vehicles, but it is still contributing. Hyundai Motor Company has announced plans to change 100 percent of its major market to electric vehicles by 2040, declaring its carbon neutrality vision and goal for 2045. As part of this, in 2022, Hyundai joined the "RE 100" initiative, which will join in converting electricity needed for operations around the world into renewable energy. RE 100-affiliated companies should meet the goal of using 100 percent of the electricity they need from eco-friendly renewable energy sources by 2050. In these circumstances, the NEXO advertisement on Hyundai's website has become a problem. It introduced NEXO as "so beautifully clean, it purifies the air as it goes." The UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) designated Hyundai's NEXO as a misleading advertisement in relation to the environment. In response, the ASA questioned whether hydrogen cars could purify the air, although they could mean cleaner air. According to Hyundai, the NEXO's three-stage air purification system cleans 26.9 kilograms of air when it runs for one hour. However, the ASA regulated the advertisement, arguing that cars are still polluting due to small particles from brakes and tires and that it could mislead consumers into thinking that cars don't leave impurities in the air. This is greenwashing in that it was labeled as environmentally friendly based on some of its eco-friendly elements. As such, the automobile industry emphasizes some eco-friendly functions to cover the environmental impact that occurs in other parts and to deceive eco-friendly eyes.
For truly valuable consumption
With the recent emergence of value consumption among consumers, eco-friendly value consumption in consideration of the environment is increasing. As a result, the company is introducing ESG management to advance eco-friendly management strategies. The food, fashion, and automobile industries are committed to delivering eco-friendly products in line with ESG management trends. However, there are some companies that abuse eco-friendly marketing, called greenwashing. As the market for eco-friendly products grows, clear regulation and monitoring seem to be needed.
1) Ju So-hyun, "I Get 700 Won Discount Every Time I Go to Starbucks! Tips to know", The Herald Business, August 31, 2023
2) Kwak Eun-young, "Fashion Industry Jumps Into Used Market…"Practice ESG With Circulation"", womentimes, April 5, 2023
3) Jeon Hue-sung, "In the First Quarter, Consumer Electric Vehicle Purchases increased..the Strongest Electric Car Is EV6", CONSUMERWIDE, April 12, 2023
4) Yang Joon-gyu, "Only Words Are Eco-Friendly, the Inside Is Detailed…Show-Through ESG 'Green Washing' Warnings", SkyeDaily, Oct 29, 2021
5) Kim Hyun-jong, "The Clothes Called 'Recycling Clothes'...Ask About the Actual Recycled Fiber Percentage", The Hankook Ilbo, Nov 16, 2022