Navigating True Sustainability in the Optical Industry: Beyond Greenwashing

Beyond Greenwashing -paintbrush with green paint

When I visit optical stores, one question that I often get is how to tell if a brand is really sustainable or just pretending to be, in other words practicing so-called ‘greenwashing’?!

Let’s try to put some clarity around that to better understand.

My straight answer is: A sustainable business makes money and success without harming our planet or people.

Let’s explore further.

In an environmental context, sustainability is often defined as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

This involves environmental protection, economic viability, and social well-being. Environmental protection is played out in companies’ choices of activities, where a sustainable company is ensuring that the natural environment is preserved and protected, minimizing pollution, waste, and the depletion of natural resources, and promoting biodiversity.

Sustainable brands consider the entire lifecycle of their products. This includes using recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable materials, offering repair services to extend the product’s life, and having take-back programs for recycling; keeping their production local; allocating a portion of their profits to environmental and social causes; and obtaining certifications like ISO 14001, B Corporation, Fairtrade, FSC, and becoming a 1% for the Planet member just to mention a few.

On the flip side, greenwashing is misleading communication where companies give a false impression of their environmental efforts. It’s when brands invest more in marketing themselves as ‘green’ rather than implementing environmental practices.

More brands and companies are using terms like ‘sustainable eyewear’ and ‘eco-friendly eyewear,’ claiming to have a positive impact on the environment. Unfortunately, these terms have become so overused that they have lost much of their meaning, making it difficult for purchasers or end customers to discern which companies are genuinely sustainable and which are merely pretending. A useful tool in this sustainability jungle is to look for certifications. Meeting the high standards of certification requires rigorous effort. So, to be on the safe side, check for environmental certifications, and the B-Corp certification is considered one of the most thorough global certifications.

Companies deeply committed to sustainability pursue goals that reach far beyond their self-interest, with global impacts. Their decisions are consistently made through the sustainable lens, sustainability is part of their DNA and a fundamental reason for their existence. They are often quite open about their operations and products, so have a look at their websites.

Eight actions an optical company that genuinely practices sustainability will do:

  1. Their missions extend beyond their own interests and have a global impact.
  2. Be transparent about their operations and products, having nothing to conceal.
  3. Support recycled and/or biodegradable materials, avoid using virgin materials.
  4. Support local manufacturing to reduce pollution and ensure better control over social and environmental impacts, following strict regulations.
  5. Support timeless eyewear designs that resist fast fashion trends, encouraging slow consumption.
  6. Promote messages of slow consumption in their communication.
  7. Minimize waste by eliminating unnecessary packaging.
  8. Have one or more environmental certifications.

So, to spot whether a company is genuinely committed to its sustainability claims or just making empty promises, look at what they do and to what extent it contributes to good things for the environment and people while making financial sense in the long run.

Keep in mind, that this is a continuous journey, and no one is perfect. We all need to take responsibility for our actions and strive to make each day a bit better than the last. Every conscious choice, no matter how small, contributes to a larger positive impact. Together we can make a difference, one pair of frames at a time, ensuring a sustainable future in the optical industry and beyond!

SILMO PARIS 20-23 September 2024

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