‘Eco Lingo’ – Busting Sustainability Jargon

Sustainability, as most thankfully now realise, is far more than just a ‘buzzword’ or a ‘trend’. However, there is no denying that its impact is increasing and becoming an everyday part of our society, in both a personal and professional sense. 

As a sustainable mindset becomes ever more important, misinformation and disinformation are unfortunately becoming increasingly prevalent. 


What is sustainability jargon?


Over recent years, we’ve seen a whole new vocabulary form around “sustainability” and the subsequent jargon is providing many buzzwords, particularly with regards to recycling, recycled materials, carbon neutrality, circular economy and others. The use of this jargon often, and quite deliberately, introduces confusion and misunderstanding within the industry. So, we’re here to help highlight the most prominent ‘eco lingo’ and its misuse. 




Sustainability is the process of fulfilling humanities needs in the present without adversely affecting future generations. But what are sustainable practices within the large-format industry? Unfortunately, they are virtually non-existent, yet you wouldn’t believe it judging by the widespread use of the word “sustainability” and associated terminology. It’s as if the industry has been brainwashed into thinking that all the necessary sustainable infrastructure and support physically exists. Let’s be clear – it doesn’t. 

But how do we tackle these pervasive falsehoods? The first method is thankfully well underway, and that’s to ensure that consumers, as well as businesses, become more savvy and scrutinise the sustainability claims we come across every day. The second method is an extension of the first; call it out! Spreading the word to colleagues, friends, on social media, as well as reaching out to the perpetrator, can bring about real change. 




This leads us onto the term for sustainability claims that have no substance. Despite consumers becoming increasingly shrewd about dubious claims, ‘greenwashing’, the practice of using deceptive marketing or advertising techniques to misrepresent the sustainability of a product or service, remains rampant. It’s sad to see businesses divert investment away from actual sustainable practices into efforts to seem as if they are doing the right thing for the planet! As we continue to scrutinise, examine, identify, and amplify greenwashing, the tide will turn, and false sustainability will become too risky and costly a practice.  




ESG stands for Environmental, Social and Governance. In theory, a sustainable business uses transparent government policies, standards and measurements to ensure its impact on the environment and society does not affect future generations. In reality, it’s simply used as jargon by the growing ranks of disingenuous organisations trying to convince us that environmental and corporate social responsibility can be achieved with just a few clicks of a mouse or minutes from a meeting. It doesn’t! It takes years of continuous product improvement and business cultural changes to achieve.




How does recycling work, and what does it truly mean? “Recycling” and “recyclable” are the most widely used jargon terms within the plastics industry. The mere mention of it assures us that our products won’t end up in landfill, incinerated or simply trashed, but will instead be magically and continuously transformed into new products and materials. Not so! The UNEP, among others, has stated that since 1950, only 9% of all the plastics ever made have been recycled, and nearly all of this is recycled just once before being trashed. For the large format signage banner industry this percentage is almost zero. 



Simply type in the words “recyclable plastic lawsuit” in an internet search and pages and pages of lawsuits and out of court settlements (mainly from the US) will appear. According to these suits, the word “recyclable” implies that a waste material will be recycled into a product or material. Obviously, this is not the case: reading through some of the lawsuits you will see that even the most recycled of plastics, clear plastic beverage and food packaging, are only 40% recyclable, depending on location. This is because to be (fully or 100%) recyclable the infrastructure and processes must be in place to deal with all related manufactured products, including those that have already been trashed – quite clearly this is not possible!


Carbon Neutral and Net Zero 


Since recent UN Climate Change Conferences such as the Paris agreement in 2015 and COP26 Glasgow in 2021, the use of “carbon neutral” and “net zero” among others are coming to the forefront of climate change discussions and the “jargon users” are in overdrive. They essentially mean the same thing, in that they require carbon dioxide emissions to be balanced out by a variety of different methods such as offsetting, reduction, capture, etc. Whether or not these policies will actually arrest climate change and pollution is debatable, however, it’s how these words are being used that is causing a worrying trend. 

Take PVC (or vinyl as it is more commonly known). Just like all plastics it emits a certain amount of greenhouse gasses during its lifecycle and by simply offsetting them, a company can claim to be carbon neutral (and even gain third party verification), hence giving the impression a company or its products are “green” or have “sustainable” credentials. For PVC, CO2 emissions are not its most dangerous attribute, it’s the highly toxic nature of the chemicals and the biproducts contained within that are far more lethal to the environment, climate and human health than its CO2 emissions. Unfortunately, some within our industry are now hiding the toxic nature of their products behind carbon neutrality certifications – it doesn’t bode well for future generations.

 Only through valid Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) can a company make valid sustainability claims.



Is your business ready to become more sustainable?


Sustainability jargon may be widespread, but by scratching the surface and scrutinising the claims of those companies that need our business, and calling out greenwashing and dubious commitments when we see them, we can do our bit to turn the tide.  

At the same time, areas where a real impact can be made have also been identified.
In the PVC-Free Pledge For The Planet short film, KAVALAN is directly addressing hard truths and highlighting how the company is leading the large-format print industry by example, as part of our commitment to save the planet. 

The only question now is, which KAVALAN material can you switch to in your business to support your sustainable journey? Go for KAVALAN now! 

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