How to counter greenwashing with independent third-party certification

IEC Conformity Assessment schemes, such as the ones offered by IECQ, provide much needed services to measure and verify companies' environmental claims.

IEC certification schemes (IECQ) which offer third party independent assessment and can help to counter misleading claims

Despite the inflation and energy crisis, which may have an impact on their purchasing power, many customers say they are prepared to pay more for products offering a sustainability message. But how do they know for sure that the product they are buying is sustainable and environmentally friendly?

The short answer is: they don’t. Customers have to rely on claims made by companies that their products are environmentally friendly and manufactured in facilities that provide good working conditions, health and safety for their workers in addition to using sustainable means of production. These are usually not checked by independent third-party assessors.

The pressure to go green and the need to seduce consumers have, in some cases, led companies and organizations to make claims that may be deceptive or misleading, if not outright false. It is tempting to use words such as “sustainable”, “green”, “eco-friendly”, “good for the planet”, “better for the environment” in advertising marketing campaigns without having evidence or facts to support these claims. For example, many organizations and suppliers issue claims relating to their carbon footprint for the services and products they provide based on their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which are totally unverified.

Greenwashing or how to make spurious environmental claims

The practice of misleading consumers about a company’s environmental credentials has a name: greenwashing. According to Wikipedia, the term was coined by New York environmentalist Jay Westerveld in a 1986 essay about the hotel industry’s practice of placing notices in bedrooms promoting the reuse of towels to “save the environment”. Westerveld noted that the gimmick saved laundry costs but did little to reduce energy waste.The term was little known for many years but with the impact of climate change becoming a major issue worldwide, it has surfaced and taken a whole new meaning.

While some environmentally conscious companies have taken the necessary steps to become sustainable and eco-friendly, others may be making claims that are not verified and perhaps misleading. Greenwashing today is used by companies in all industry sectors, but this may change progressively as awareness of the misleading practice is growing. Governments are taking measures, environmental organizations and the media are raising the alarm and communicating increasingly about the culprits. With the obvious consequence of eroding consumer trust.

There’s one sector of industry where greenwashing is possibly more relevant than in any other: consumer electronics. The manufacturing of electronic goods is not the most environmentally friendly and recycling is far from optimal.

IECQ schemes to the rescue

The IEC can help to provide independent assessment of company environmental claims, through its different conformity assessment systems.  Third-party conformity assessment refers to a type of certification performed by a person or organization that is independent of the seller or the buyer. It provides the highest level of assurance. Several IECQ (IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic System for Electronic Components) schemes offer precisely that type of independent third party reassurance concerning environmental matters. They include the hazardous substances process management (HSPM) and the eco design approved process schemes.

Targeting hazardous substances

IECQ started to target environmental issues many years ago when it launched the IECQ hazardous substance process management (HSPM) scheme, the perfect solution for manufacturers and suppliers who want to produce and distribute hazardous substance-free (HSF) electronic components.

IECQ HSPM is a technically based management systems approach to implementing and maintaining hazardous substance-free products and production processes. IECQ HSPM was developed in response to component manufacturers’ need to give suppliers the means of demonstrating, through third-party assessment, that their electrical and electronic components and assemblies meet specific hazardous substance-free local, national and international requirements.

Many companies today are working to attain IECQ HSPM certification to IECQ QC 080000, IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components (IECQ System) - Hazardous Substance Process Management (HSPM) System Requirements. The fourth edition, published in May 2017, clarifies how organizations can use IECQ QC 080000 to manage their hazardous substances other than through the outright removal of restricted substances and avoiding their use in products.

…and incorporating eco design

Recently, IECQ joined forces with IEC Technical Committee 111: Environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems, to offer an eco design service as part of its approved process (AP) scheme. Eco design seeks to minimize negative environmental impacts and promote sustainability throughout a product's life cycle, from raw material extraction to end-of-life management. This includes considering factors such as energy efficiency, resource use, waste reduction, and toxicity. The goal of eco design in the electronics industry is to create products that are both functional and environmentally responsible.

The collaboration relies on an international standard developed by TC 111, IEC 62430, Environmentally conscious design (ECD) - Principles, requirements and guidance, aimed at organizations to achieve eco design.

Safe, reliable, sustainable and no greenwashing

With IECQ testing and certification, manufacturers and suppliers of all types of electronic components throughout the world have a powerful tool at their disposal, enabling their products to meet the strictest requirements.

As the worldwide approval and certification system covering the supply of electronic components, assemblies and associated materials and processes, the IECQ through its accepted certification bodies offers the IECQ approved process scheme – environmental services supporting the circular economy, utilizing quality assessment specifications to ISO/IEC International Standards.

In addition, there are a multitude of related materials and processes that are covered by the IECQ schemes, with additional services under development to support the circular economy further.

IECQ certificates are used worldwide as a tool to monitor and control the manufacturing supply chain, thus helping to reduce costs and time to market, and eliminating the need for multiple re-assessments of suppliers and avoid the temptation of greenwashing.

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