Broadcast in January, Radio 4’s More Or Less programme tackled the issue of greenwashing, investigating the claims of toilet paper company Serious Tissues.
With increasing awareness of companies making misleading environmental claims, there are more and more instances of the media calling out greenwashing. The latest example of this positive trend is the BBC’s More Or Less programme on Radio 4, which investigated a recent marketing claim by Serious Tissues.
The company, which produces a range of tissue products, ran a radio ad that stated: “15% of global deforestation is from toilet rolls alone. But switch to Serious Tissues and they don’t cut down trees. In fact, Serious Tissues plant a tree for every roll sold.”
Following the ad campaign, a number of Radio 4 listeners wrote to More or Less, taking issue with the 15% figure and asking the team to investigate and find out whether that figure was true. On January 29, journalist Charlotte McDonald presented the results of their findings.
“First, we contacted the company whose ad it was, Serious Tissues, and they directed us to a 2019 report by the American environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defence Council or NRDC,” said Charlotte on the programme. “The problem with the report was we couldn’t see a 15% figure that related to toilet paper.”
The team went further, interviewing Professor Mary Gagen, Chief Adviser on Forests to the World Wide Fund for Nature, who couldn’t find the figure either. Professor Gagen stated that she suspected the figure was for all products that are made from wood pulp, including paper packaging and graphic paper, as well as tissue.
“There is a number that is quite widely cited associated with the wood pulp industry,” she said. “Which is between 10% and around 14% of global deforestation can be attributed to the pulp and paper industry. So I wonder if that 15% attribution to toilet paper usage is possibly a misinterpretation of that global wood pulp figure.”
The Two Sides Response
While More Or Less effectively highlighted the problem of greenwashing and the importance of certification for wood pulp products, they weren’t able to provide a definitive figure for the amount of trees used to service the world’s annual usage of toilet tissue. So following the programme, Two Sides worked through the latest statistics from the Confederation of European Paper Industries (CEPI) to estimate the % of total global wood harvest used for making toilet paper. The reality is that this is between 0.6-1.3%! and nowhere near the 15% figure used by Serious Tissues.
Two Sides wrote to More Or Less with this statistic and also reminded the programme that the word deforestation, when attached to paper production, is highly misleading as all trees used for making paper products are replanted, with European forests having grown at a rate of 1,500 football pitches every day between 2005 and 2015 and, of all the paper we use in Europe, 74% is recycled (83% for paper packaging)!
Another story of Greenwash exposed
More Or Less succeeded in persuading Serious Tissues to stop using the 15% figure, with the company stating:
“We were really surprised that, on further investigation from the team at More or Less, that 15% figure has proved difficult to fully substantiate. As a result, we’re going to stop using that particular figure in our advertising, and we’ll work to find another statistic that we can substantiate.”
A success for More Or Less, not only in getting a company to stop using misleading claims in its advertising, but also in highlighting the problem of greenwashing – something that chimes directly with the work of the Two Sides Anti-Greenwashing Campaign.
To listen to Radio 4’s More Or Less programme from January 29, go to www.bbc.co.uk/programmes
To report any instances of greenwashing, please email
Source: Two Sides