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Greenwash: This Season’s Latest Landscaping Trend

In a year in which climate change, carbon footprints and ethical sourcing have featured more heavily in the media than ever before, a hot new trend in the landscaping market has emerged in response to consumers’ heightened awareness of environmental and social concerns: GREENWASH.

Wikipedia identifies Greenwash as the actions of an organisation which advertises positive environmental practices while acting in the opposite way. This currently fashionable form of ‘environmental window dressing’ has become so popular that CorpWatch now even gives out bimonthly Greenwash awards to companies that put more money, time and energy into slick PR campaigns aimed at promoting their eco-friendly images, than they do to actually protecting the environment.

As Greenpeace mocks on its website,, Greenwash has become so sophisticated that its upgrade has just been launched: “Climatewash - Greenwash 2.0. Simple, cheap and no real change needed - great for big business!”

Already it’s easy to see why Greenwash has been enthusiastically adopted in the landscaping market. After all, genuinely improving the environmental and ethical performance of landscaping manufacturers and suppliers is a complex and arduous process, with no easy short cuts – as Marshalls Plc knows from extensive experience.

Marshalls has been measuring the environmental impacts of its operations since 2002 and utilizes the Construction Products Association (CPA) KPIs to measure the impacts year on year in terms of its energy and water usage, transport, waste reduction and packaging. This is not a quick fix; it’s a serious ongoing commitment to improving environmental performance – and one which simply cannot be copied with a me-too desire for catch up.

Amidst the current scramble among competitors for eco-friendly appeal, Marshalls instead is progressing along the journey of sustainability by delivering measurable environmental benefits. Marshalls recognises that its operations contribute to man-made climate change as detailed by the Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change. However, several years ago, Marshalls commissioned its own extensive research to investigate how, through modern methods of manufacturing, it could lessen its impact on the environment. As a result of this investment in industry-leading research and development, Marshalls’ new innovative mix design that uses a higher content of recycled materials and which has reduced the CO2e* embodiment of the company’s overall CBP portfolio by up to 39% - a major result, which is verified by independently approved data.

Marshalls has also implemented a unique Biodiversity Action Plan. In February 2007, this resulted in Marshalls being awarded The Wildlife Trust’s Biodiversity Benchmark for its sustained work at Maltby – the first time ever that an active manufacturing site has received the rigorously audited accreditation in the UK. The pioneering Biodiversity Benchmark enables organisations across the country to assess the quality of their land management, improve their contribution to the environment and demonstrate their commitment to biodiversity.

It is this insistence on objective benchmarking and independent analysis that sets Marshalls apart from its imitators. The Group has been actively working with the Building Research Establishment to establish the environmental profiles of its products. Marshalls was also the first company to launch an online carbon calculator, enabling users to measure the CO2 impact of different Marshalls hard landscaping products.

Marshalls’ carbon calculator has been specially developed using product life cycle information that has been independently verified. This means that all of the CO2 emitted during production of raw materials, manufacture and transportation of the product has been carefully measured and minimised. The carbon calculator can also be found at

Marshall has also now signed an agreement with the Carbon Trust to Carbon label all of its products and by doing so, agreeing to reduce their footprint over time. This will provide further independent evidence of Marshalls’ work and, as other manufacturers follow Marshalls’ lead, will allow consumers to compare the carbon footprints of various products.

And it’s not only in terms of environmental performance that Marshalls is leading the way. To raise awareness about the widespread use of child labour and bonded labour in the production of natural stone imported from India and China, Marshalls issued a booklet in early 2007 exposing ‘The Truth About Imported Indian Sandstone’ and providing photographic proof that child labour was being used in many Indian Sandstone quarries producing stone intended for the UK market.

Its impact in the industry was huge and several companies were quick to deny that child labour was used in their supply chain, or to claim that their sandstone was ‘ethically sourced’ – despite being unable to provide any hard evidence to support their public stance. Some even produced blogs from India, denying finding any evidence of child labour in sandstone quarries, despite evidence from independent journalists and NGO’s.

In contrast, Marshalls had already taken the unique step in 2005 of joining the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI), a diverse alliance of companies, trade unions and NGOs developing practical solutions to ethical trade that deliver concrete benefits for workers. It was a move that has been hastily copied by other landscaping companies this year, in an effort to make up lost ground.

As the first ever member of the landscaping industry to join the ETI, Marshalls had formally committed to adopting the ETI Base Code, which includes the principles that child labour should not be used, no-one should be forced to work, working conditions should be safe and healthy, wages should be enough to live on and workers should be treated equally.

Membership however does not warrant compliance only a commitment to compliance and Marshalls have worked hard with their supplier in India to ensure that their supply chain is actually in compliance. This has not been a simple process. Certificates of compliance for 2006 were a first and major step forward.

On 5th July 2007, Marshalls once again received certificates of compliance for its Indian supplier, issued by the independent auditing company, AQSR, which confirms “The verification of code of conduct as per ETI base code and verification of non-employment of child labour at supplier’s sites.” Importantly Marshalls has audited not only the offices (where compliance is easy to achieve) but manufacturing sites and the quarries themselves.

Delivering on environmental and ethical commitments in business is a continual (and highly demanding) process of benchmarking, analysis and improvement, and continuing to meet these criteria demands constant vigilance and regular auditing.

It requires a long-term, holistic approach, not an ad-hoc tactic. It’s a matter of proof, not just publicity. And it demands a genuine commitment to sustainable landscapes, rather than just greenwashing the issues.