Over the past three days we’ve seen what we’ve been calling “A Greener Shade of Greenwash” from the National Restaurant Association (NRA).
In Part One we laid the foundation. Showing how the NRA uses slick marketing and well-produced multimedia to deliver a message supposedly promoting green business practices, emphasizing the advantages of appealing to the eco-minded customer and implementing sustainability best practices. The NRA says they offer the Greener Restaurant program as a solution for restaurateurs.
In Part Two we saw step-by-step how an imaginary restaurant - Green Wallace Wash – becomes Certified/Recognized by the NRA as a “Greener Restaurant” three times over, all by doing nothing more than paying the annual membership fee and going online and making false claims about its internal sustainability program – all endorsed by the National Restaurant Association’s Greener Restaurant program.
We discuss the National Restaurant Association’s attempt to sidestep accountability for a program with no standards, benchmarks, or verification by insisting such burden is on the shoulders of the consumer, not the organization granting the endorsement.
In Part Three we examined the Conserve Solutions Center, a pavilion planned for the exhibit floor of the upcoming National Restaurant Association Restaurant Hotel-Motel Show in Chicago on May 22-25.
The Conserve Solutions Center is promoted as an opportunity for business-to-business marketing of “green business solutions,” an opportunity to display green products and services for interested restaurant owners.
We saw how “Troy,” a prospective exhibitor at the Conserve Solutions Center submitted four items for consideration: two products made of virgin plastic, one cleaning product clearly stated as made from 100% Chlorine and ethyl cellusolve (a chemical listed in California as a hazardous material), and a Styrofoam cup. When specifically asked if the products were acceptable for inclusion at the Conserve Solutions Center, a representative from the NRA replied in an email: “Your products are a great fit for the Conserve Solutions Center”.
We have established a clear pattern of the kind of cynicism, deception, and false claims that define the worst in greenwashing. It should not – indeed it can not – be the burden of the customer to benchmark and verify claims implicitly and explicitly endorsed by the organization issuing the endorsement - or the endorsement means nothing. That is a truth the semantical argument in which the National Restaurant Association would have us engage over a “recognition” vs. a “certification” program cannot dissuade.
The National Restaurant Association has undertaken a sophisticated, well-planned, and intentional greenwash campaign. It ultimately hurts those it professes to help, casting doubt and suspicion on legitimately benchmarked and verified sustainability programs.
And there’s one more thing.
Lobbying against the environment
By virtue of what we have seen over the past few days, it is clear that the National Restaurant Association is marketing sustainability as a top concern. But that’s just the veneer over which lay the true agenda.
All one need do is follow the money. The National Restaurant Association is the single largest financial contributor in the industry supporting politicians blocking any progress on climate change and energy policy reform. They are charging $250 for businesses to access a website that gives them a fake certification that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. And finally, they charging up to $4,000 for businesses to claim to be green in their Conserve pavilion, regardless of how green their products are.
The NRA needs to know that the public and restaurants are smarter than that. They deserve more than that. The NRA needs to know that the environment is not for sale.