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An Assessment of the Food Companies Sustainability Policies through a Greenwashing Indicator

"There is an increasing interest in green marketing as a powerful tool to enhance the agrifood companies’ reputation and competitiveness; this makes it necessary to provide tools, for the consumers and the other stakeholders in the food system, able to detect the presence of distorted or false information often defined as greenwashing. It is also important for the agrifood companies to be able to prevent their communication to be unintentionally perceived as greenwashing, thus fully exploiting the value added provided by an effective communication of their sustainability policies. The goal of this paper is to provide a monitoring tool able to support the food companies definition of effective green marketing strategies, avoiding the risk of greenwashing; moreover supporting the other food system stakeholders’ critical analysis of the sustainability communication coming from the food companies. To this end a list of indicators coming from different organizations (Greenpeace, EnviroMedia Social Marketing and Oregon University, Terrachoice, Futerra) and authors (J.Grant, 2009) have been chosen and integrated in order to cover a broad range of sustainability dimensions and communication suggestions finalised to avoiding greenwashing in the agrifood sector. The level of correctness and relevance of the companies communication as been assessed by measuring the number of actions described in the food companies’ Sustainability Report, falling within the indicators belonging to the different categories of green marketing and greenwashing. The indicators have been tested on a large Italian food company: Barilla, by considering its Sustainability Report for the year 2016. The results showed that the sustainability actions related to possible greenwashing represent a relatively low share of the total action implemented by Barilla. Most interesting is the capacity of this analytical tool to encompass a broad range of dimensions related to the companies green marketing strategies evaluation; this allows also other stakeholders to more clearly analyse the capacity of a company to provide a clear honest and complete report on their sustainability activities. Further studies should weigh the different green marketing and greenwashing indicators in order to appreciate their relevance in contributing to the overall level of correct communication. A sample of representative food chain stakeholders should be involved in providing an expert evaluation."
Cesare Zanasi, Cosimo Rota, Simone Trere, Sharon Falciatori
Bologna University - Italy
Domains-Issue Area: 
Industry Focus: 
Food & Agriculture