Have you ever purchased an item from your favorite store’s ‘eco-collection’? Ever praised shops like H&M for having an environmentally friendly Conscious collection, or saw a click-baity promo message in your email inbox saying they’re ‘going green’?
Greenwashing is a tactic utilized by businesses in which they create the illusion that their company is environmentally friendly.
Greenwashing is essentially a form of deception, as it conveys an illusion to consumers that they are purchasing economically sound products, when in reality, that is not the case.
*Literally* Using the Color GREEN
Brands Utilizing Nature Imagery as a Social-Impact Marketing Tool
Many big brand names and major companies are marketing their products with “sustainable” guarantees and “green” badges. These logos are often placed onto products manufactured without any kind of “sustainable” regulation.
- Nestle’s “sustainably sourced” cocoa beans
- Blueland’s non recyclable and non compostable “100% recyclable” cleaning products
- All MSC “sustainable fishing” labels
These labels are extremely misleading, yet influential, to the public.
- The companies that “assess” products develop falsely advertised standards
- MSC’s “sustainable fish stocks standard,” which ignores that fact that the fishing industry as a whole is impossibly sustainable
- Apple’s “world’s greenest lineup of notebooks”
- Consumers are constantly mislead by these labels of “certification,” no matter how vague they appear (also look at the company/corporation who owns the company)
- Seventh Generation’s “eco friendly” laundry detergent bottle with a recyclable container shell. The inside is still plastic.
- Burt’s Bees’s “natural” makeup brand packaging, even though the company was actually bought by Clorox in 2007
“Hello, I’m Paper” – Goodbye, you’re actually PLASTIC.
Innisfree is a beauty company that focuses on creating “all natural” products, one of which recently received backlash from consumers for its misleading language. The company’s Green Tea Seed Serum packaging states “Hello, I’m Paper Bottle”.
However, it was revealed that this “paper bottle” was actually plastic covered in a thick layer of paper. The company issued an apology for their utilization of greenwashing to mislead customers.
An Example of Greenwashing: H&M’s Conscious Connection
H&M has attempted to brand themselves as a company that prioritizes the environment and utilizes eco-friendly practices. They have even launched a clothing line called the Conscious Collection. H&M states that they use clothing in recycling bins to create their clothing for Conscious Collective. However, this information provided by H&M is misleading; the company that sends recycled clothing to H&M states that only 35% of the recycled clothing that H&M receives is actually used for their Conscious Collective. The rest remains in the bins, meaning that 65% of the waste is unaccounted for.
Volkswagen released an ad campaign to debunk the fact that diesel was bad, and that it used a certain technology where their cars emitted lesser pollutants. The truth was revealed that Volkswagen had rigged 11 million of its diesel cars with ‘defeat devices’, which is technology designed to cheat emission tests. Federal agencies made the company pay $14.7 billion to settle those allegations, turns out the cars were emitting nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times the legal limit.
The Six Sins of Greenwashing
- Sin of Vagueness
The eco-friendly labels on products are sometimes so vague they have virtually no meaning. A common example of this would be products labelled as “all natural”; the lack of specific information makes this claim meaningless.
- Sin of Hidden Trade-off
In an effort to divert consumers’ attention from the detrimental environmental impact of their products, companies often emphasize how their products are eco-friendly in other manners. For example, a product may be labelled as “recyclable” to defer attention from gas emissions required to make the product.
- Sin of No Proof
Companies often give eco-friendly labels to their products but provide no evidence to substantiate their claims. For example, many companies in the beauty industry label their products as “all-natural” but have no certifiable sources to confirm whether this is true.
- Sin of Irrelevance
Companies tend to promote their product by claiming that their product is “environmentally friendly” but in reality it misleads consumers that are looking for eco-friendly alternatives and distracts them from finding a truly greener option
- Sin of Fibbing
Oftentimes, companies state that their products labelled as eco-friendly are approved by certifying organizations. However, some companies lie about this in order to mislead consumers. For example, various shampoo and face scrubs state they are “certified as organic”, when in reality, this is not the case.
- Sin of Lesser of Two Evils
Products that claim to be ‘green’ and are true within the category but it distracts the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of said product. For example, organic cigarettes or ‘green’ insecticides and herbicides.
Did you know one cotton t-shirt requires 859 gallons of water to produce, which is nearly three years’ worth of drinking water?
The fashion industry is one of the most notorious culprits of greenwashing and is seen in almost every large fashion corporation. As common as greenwashing is in fashion, it is one of the hardest forms of greenwashing to identify.
Consumers rarely see clothing explicitly labelled as “eco-friendly”. Instead, companies use more subtle tactics that range from “100% cotton” labels on a t-shirt or “made from natural materials” tag on a sweater. These details are so miniscule that consumers rarely think twice about an article of clothing’s environmental soundness, which is exactly what the clothing company wants.
How to Spot Greenwashing and make Smart, Conscious Choices as Consumer
Spotting greenwashing takes a maximum of five minutes; a simple Google search about a company provides a clear indication as to whether their products are environmentally sound.
When consumers first see a label on a product claiming that it is eco-friendly, they should do deeper research on it to learn whether the company is putting on a facade or truly committed to making environmentally sound products.
A quick glance at a company’s website or social media indicates whether or not they prioritize green policies.