The Greenwashing Problem – How This Eco-conscious Brand is Delivering Authenticity

Oct 30, 2023

With customer interest in sustainability at an all-time high, more and more companies are making claims about their commitment to ethical and environmental practices. However, how believable is the marketing hype? Tom Hiney from suncare brand SunButter explains the brand’s objectives when it comes to the conscious consumer.

For anyone in the natural products space, the issue of greenwashing has become an increasingly grey area. In short, greenwashing is a deceptive marketing practice where a business conveys a false or misleading impression about just how much their products and practices are actually ethically or environmentally sound.

Last year the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) issued its first ever fine to a company for greenwashing and warned they’d be stepping up future investigations.

The basic keys to avoiding greenwashing include being as authentic and transparent as possible in website and marketing materials, adhering to sustainability and ethical goals, show how you are making a contribution and being open to third party verification.

For SunButter, who are exhibiting for the first time in the Conscious Consumption zone at Naturally Good’s 2024, being aware and authentic is at the heart of everything they do and the greenwashing issue is a challenge.

As the brand’s first trade show, co-founder Tom Hiney says the ethos of the event strongly aligns with their values. “We are really keen to solidify relationships, meet potential retailers and other like-minded brands in the zone and elsewhere who are just as passionate and ethical as we are.”

A burning issue: protecting skin whilst protecting oceans

Ningaloo Reef off Exmouth, Western Australia, is one of the world’s most pristine marine environments. However, for Tom, a conservation ecologist, and his marine biologist wife Sacha Guggenheimer, the need to wear chemically laden tubes of sunscreen on their skin whilst swimming alongside majestic whale sharks felt anything but natural.

Deeply committed to the environment, the couple found there was no sunscreen which ticked all the sustainable boxes. So, in 2016, after Googling, Sacha whizzed up some homemade sunscreen with natural ingredients in her mother’s blender and called the concoction SunButter.

“We made it ourselves, put it into glass jars and sold it to dive companies and surfers around Exmouth as there was a demand for something natural and Australian made,” says Tom. “By 2019 we’d moved to Melbourne and engaged a manufacturer to create a proper business out of it following a Kickstarter campaign.”

Since then, the Australian-made product which is now stocked in more than 500 stores and online portals, has had several impressive firsts. Their Original SPF50 Sunscreen which comes in tins like all their products, was Australia’s first plastic tube-free sunscreen. Their Surf Zinc SPF50 was also the country’s first vegan surf zinc, containing no beeswax.

“We also become the world’s first certified palm oil free sunscreen company which was a huge achievement, as our goal was to create a business with zero environmental impact,” says Tom.

Lack of commitment: “It does my head in”

When it comes to being truly respectful of the conscious consumer, Tom feels it’s not enough to merely say you support the environment – you need to follow through and show you mean it.

The company’s environmental philosophy, goals, impact statement, certifications, natural ingredients, social endeavours and other important information is clearly stated on the company website.

SunButter, which has now expanded into skincare products and clothing, also releases an annual impact report stating their ecological efforts. Their most recent stats include:

208,440 Single-use plastic bottles of sunscreen avoided by choosing sunscreen in tin

21 tonnes Of toxic chemical UV blockers diverted from waterways and oceans

$30,018 Money donated to charitable partners

354 tonnes Carbon offset through Greenfleet tree planting in Australia and New Zealand

“It does my head in,” Tom says of greenwashing. “Some companies make a song and dance about sustainability, but their products are packaged in single use plastic.”

In his industry, he adds it’s tricky when there’s no monitoring body. “With reef safe sunscreen, the government doesn’t have a stance on it. Some companies’ products aren’t designed to be ‘reef safe’, they’re just made to not contain any “bad ingredients” rather than being created according to reef safe research. That gets my goat as it creates confusion around the topic and no-one pulls them up on it.”

Being honest about successes and failures

To convey their authenticity, the company is highly engaged in social media with their audience. They also support initiatives and have partnered with marine conservation group, Sea Shepherd, for their SunButter Sunscreen and offer an annual grant for environmentally minded budding filmmakers.

Tom says success often comes down to customers having belief and respect for your brand. “Being transparent is part of that. We really believe in owning failures and triumphs.”

The company’s business ethics were tested in 2019 when their manufacturing partner said one of their sunscreen’s ingredients needed to change to an alternative which was not palm-oil free.

“We could have kept quiet about that, but that’s not how we operate,” says Tom. “We told customers via social media that we no longer deserved the palm-oil free certification and took it off packaging. It resulted in a big online retailer no longer wanting to stock our products anymore.

“We said to customers, this is our journey, it’s really hard but we’ll find a solution. It took two years to find a non-palm oil supplier before we could re-instate our certification. In the end, I feel being honest was great for our brand’s integrity.”

When discussing their aims with the Naturally Good team for 2024, Tom says they also had options to exhibit in the skincare or start-up zones. However, they felt the Conscious Consumption zone was the right fit. “Our team’s passion to grow a socially and environmentally ethical skincare company is driven by our mantra, ‘Protecting people and the planet’. It’s a promise to our planet and our customers for us and our future.”

If you’re interested in exhibiting at Naturally Good 2024 contact the team today.

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