ARE THEY GREENWASHING OR NOT?
REVIEWING BRANDS' SUSTAINABILITY CLAIMS
We use our expertise and digital sleuthing to analyze brands' sustainability claims and determine if they are greenwashing.
UPDATE BASED ON NEW INFORMATION
I have updated this post based on new information provided directly by the VP of Sustainability at Pela Case. He was able to provide additional context about the company's governance and operations, and product lifecycle analysis before it appears on the company's website. He assured me that this information will be publicly available on the company's site soon.
The analysis below has been updated as a result of this information.
SUMMARY OF OUR OPINION ON PELA CASES
Pela is a relatively young company that prides itself on its sustainable materials. Initially, my analysis showed that the company did not provide much data or third-party substantiation behind their sustainable claims. But the VP of Sustainability for the company has sent me some information to address some of the elements. He said they will be publicly sharing this data in the next month.
Their sustainability efforts are centered around two dimensions. First is their compostable plastic products, which they claim can be composted in industrial compost facilities or even backyards (there are different standards for industrial vs. backyard composting, and they only reference the former). Second is their charitable giving, which is laudable but doesn’t necessarily address the environmental impacts of their core business.
I initially concluded that I would like to see them be more transparent with data on the lifecycle impacts of the materials they use versus traditional materials. They have produced a lifecycle analysis to do that, which they will be publicizing soon. It would also be helpful to see a more comprehensive sustainability/impact report.
WHAT TO ASK OF PELA
We know that brands respond when they hear from their customers. So, we always recommend you contact brands' sales or support lines to share your interest in their sustainability practices. And if you want to see them improve, ask them:
1. Can you please publish a lifecycle assessment of the comparison between the materials in your products versus traditional plastics for phone cases? // Update: The VP of Sustainability shared an LCA with me; the company will publish it soon.
2. Can you please send more information about the environmental impacts of your production processes?
Here’s their contact email: Hello@pelacase.com
Details of Pela’s sustainability efforts
I focus on five elements of a leading sustainability program: (1) Sustainable leadership, (2), Sustainable materials, (3) Sustainable production, (4) Sustainable quality, and (5) Sustainable transparency. In each category, I post their claims, as well as the substantiation (proof) if any is provided. In some cases, I also include a brief analysis of my own.
01 SUSTAINABLE LEADERSHIP
Certified B Corporation: Pela is a Certified B Corporation as of September, 2019.
Sustainability executives: At least one person is dedicated to sustainability at Pela: the Vice President of Sustainability.
Claim: “Pela's goal is to remove 1 billion pounds of plastic from the waste stream in the next 5 years.” // Substantiation: “All of our projects are independently certified to internationally recognized standards.” // Analysis: Pela does not specify the third-party.
Claim: Pela is addressing its carbon emissions. // Substantiation: Pela's VP of Sustainability provided me with the company's pre-published carbon footprint (developed by a third party consultant) and the receipt for the purchase of carbon offsets.
Claim: For 1% For the Planet: “Pela donated more than the 1% pledge in 2018 to their charitable partners in the amount of $95,439.66.” // Analysis: This is the total amount of donations, which are further detailed in the company's claims below.
Claim: “Save The Waves works with local communities to identify these issues and take action through strategic campaigns and projects. $10,000 protects 1 surf ecosystem for a year, and they estimate each surf ecosystem can generate 10,000 ridable waves per year, so each $1 protects 1 wave.” // Substantiation: None provided. // Analysis: Pela seems to have donated $63.9k to Save The Waves, though they don’t explicitly say that and there’s no way to verify it.
Claim: “When we support Surfrider, every dollar raised goes to protect 1 foot of coastline. In 2018, Pela raised $6,462 from case sales.” // Substantiation: None provided. // Analysis: This is nice but it is difficult to determine the impact.
Claim: “To help support these initiatives, Pela raised $13,217.16 from case sales and made a total donation of $25,000 to the organization.” // Substantiation: None provided.
Sustainability collaboration: Pela is working with GreenStep and EcoBase for its product lifecycle assessment, and carbon impact assessment. It is not clear if it is working with any industry groups to share its knowledge and collaborate.
Circularity efforts: Pela launched a Pela 360 program to take-back and recycle cases from customers. It recently began marketing the effort and provide drop box displays in retail partners (so far, the are in 40 Best Buy Canada stores).
02 SUSTAINABLE MATERIALS
Pela's VP of Sustainability provided me with a third-party LCA conducted to compare the environmental impacts of the life of its cases with conventionally produced cases. Specifically, it focuses on carbon emissions, water consumed, and waste generation relative to 100% petroleum-based products; it concludes that Pela cases generate less impact than those conventional cases. // Analysis: Performing a lifecycle analysis of a company's products is considered to be a leading practice, since it uncovers information about the environmental impact hotspots and opportunities to reduce them. The best LCAs include recommendations for how to improve the product footprint. However, LCAs do not always tell the full story since accurate input data is often difficult to obtain and a separate analysis often needs to be performed for each product sold. Therefore, LCA recommendations should also include methods for how to improve the accuracy of data for future LCAs.
Claim: “42,504 pounds of plastic that was prevented from entering the waste stream” // Substantiation: None provided.
Claim: “Pela Cases are 100% COMPOSTABLE and free of lead, cadmium, BPA and phthalates. Our cases are made of a proprietary blend of biopolymers and Canadian Prairie flax shive.” // Substantiation: None provided.
Claim: “The Pela AirPods Case is made of Flaxstic®, which is comprised of compostable bioplastic elastomer and flax straw materials. Our material has been tested to be safe and free of phthalates, BPA, cadmium and lead and is verified to meet child safety standards in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
Claim: “Our base material meets U.S. (ASTM D6400-04) and E.U. (EN 13432) standards for composting in an industrial composting facility... It can also be left to biodegrade in a home composting environment.” // Analysis: It looks like that ASTM standard is out of date (https://www.astm.org/DATABASE.CART/HISTORICAL/D6400-04.htm) but the intention remains.
Claim: It “has a lower carbon footprint and lower greenhouse gas emissions than traditional plastic.” // Substantiation: None provided. // Analysis: The LCA provided to me by the company does show that the material that Pela uses has a lower lifecycle carbon impact than 100% petroleum-derived materials.
Claim: “World's First Zero-Waste Liquid Screen Protector” // Analysis: It comes in “a glass vial that’s corked instead of excessive plastic packaging,” which they do not consider waste because it can be reused. However, it’s likely that the energy consumed to produce the glass vial is greater than producing a plastic vial – or a plastic screen protector for that matter. A life-cycle assessment would be valuable to compare the environmental benefits of both options.
Limited Edition Bee Cases:
Analysis: A classic greenwashing technique is to name an item in such a way that it portrays environmental benefits. However, Pela does not have any information or substantiation about about its Bee Cases.
Claim: “Every product that ships out goes out in the minimum amount of packaging required to get the items to their destination safely and securely. No more, no less.” // Analysis: Reduced packaging is a good step.
03 SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTION
I couldn’t find anything about their production processes, chemical usage, etc.
04 SUSTAINABLE QUALITY
We need to understand how long their products last – the higher-quality and longer-lasting, the better its sustainability profile.
05 SUSTAINABLE TRANSPARENCY
Sustainability report: Their impact report is minimal and primarily focused on charitable giving.
Website: Basic information is accessible on its website. Again, the company's VP of Sustainability has indicated that more information will be published in April, 2020.
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